Saturday, July 17, 2004

Cast your vote, get a flu shot

Officials search for ways to ease inoculation process

By Matt Leingang
Enquirer staff writer

Voters heading to the polls this November will have some big decisions to make.

Bush? Kerry? Flu shot?

Public health officials may offer the vaccine at polling locations in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky in an effort to increase the flu immunization rate.

The idea sprang out of meetings this summer by the Greater Cincinnati Flu Collaborative, which is planning for the upcoming flu season. Cases of influenza can start as early as November and run through February.

Other ideas include expanded use of drive-up vaccination clinics where motorists can fill out paperwork and get a flu shot in 10 minutes without leaving their cars.

A drive-up clinic made its local debut last year at the old Fidelity Bank building in Norwood, vaccinating 250 people, a number that health officials hope to triple with multiple sites this fall.

"Anything to make getting a flu shot more convenient," said Mary Sacco, nursing director at the Hamilton County Health District and a member of the flu collaborative.

This past winter's flu season got off to an early and harsh start.

By the end of December, health departments in Greater Cincinnati, like others nationwide, had run out of the vaccine and many hospital emergency rooms - swamped with patients - went on diversion. (Diversion means that life squads are asked to take non-critical patients to other hospitals.)

The outbreak waned in January and February.

Ohio finished with 30,563 reported cases of influenza and influenza-like illness. Kentucky, which compiles data differently, had 565 confirmed cases and 2,904 probable cases.

Nationwide, about 150 children died from the flu, including seven from Ohio.

Kentucky did not report any.

This year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is boosting the supply of flu vaccines.

It expects there will be 90 million to 100 million doses available - up from 87 million in 2003-04.

The CDC is also stockpiling 4 million doses to guard against another shortage.

The federal government recommends that people in these high-risk groups receive a shot:

• Children age 6 months to 23 months.

• People age 50 and older.

• People with chronic medical conditions.

• People with weakened immune systems.

But don't count on flu shots being available at Hamilton County polling locations just yet. A decision hasn't been made, said John Williams, director of the county's board of elections.

"Conceptually, I like the idea. It's a good, noble purpose," Williams said. "But we have some other issues to work out first."

Chief among them is security, Williams said.

And there's the issue of fairness, Williams said. Hamilton County has 1,013 polling locations.

"Do we make flu shots available to some and not others?" he asked.

Officials in Northern Kentucky haven't made a decision on whether to offer the vaccine at polling sites, either, said Evie Van Herpe, an epidemiologist with the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

But Butler County has been giving flu shots at selected polling locations for the past five years and plans to do so again in November. The shots cost $15 each.

"We have seven nurses, and we send them to polling sites across the county," said Butler County Health Director Patricia Burg.


2 charged in cross burning
Cholesterol guidelines called tainted
Laughter, loyalty, love link club
Cast your vote, get a flu shot
Chemo wafers used to treat brain tumor directly

Round 1: Fox cleared by county election board
U.S. says city owes it $3.95M
Jim Beam sues city for road project
Local news briefs
Milford schools to capitalize on development project
Mom whose teen killed tot to stay in jail 5 more months
Neighborhood briefs
Incumbents hold fund-raising lead
Young offenders learn how crime affects victims
'Flunking' teachers sue testing firm over errors
Seven Hills mayor delivers good news himself - door-to-door
Ban sought in highway shootings case
Sgt. Chips to Mr. Chips: Soldiers sought to teach
Cutting in line is OK, and parks tell you how
Mason judge wants review
Polk Run Creek still a problem for area residents
Public safety briefs
She's guilty of $561K theft

Pianist awarded NAACP medal
Prayer vigil a tradition at St. Ann's

Jacqueline Brown, teacher
Cindy Schmuelling Bake-Off finalist

He killed bear, now defends self
Louisville Democrats in a snit over Kerry, bin Laden bumper sticker link
Office seekers muddle finances
Murder suspect arrested in N.C.
Cold Spring to add homes
Kentucky fails to see joke
Kentucky news briefs
Bones unearthed at building site
Workplace Spanish class reflects Hispanic influx
Outages leave many bracing for warm weekend