Wednesday, October 17th, 2012
By William Kincaid
Flu protection from comfort of vehicle
  CELINA - Getting a flu shot on Tuesday was as easy as ordering a hamburger at a fast-food restaurant.
The Mercer County Celina City Health Department hosted a drive-thru fall flu season clinic for the fourth year in a row, this time for an entire day. Department staff also used the clinic at the Mercer County Fairgrounds as a pandemic practice drill.
"It's a win-win, this type of exercise," public health administrator Dale Palmer said.
Customers - mostly the elderly and parents with small children - drove through one of four stations set up inside buildings. An estimated 350 people were screened, registered, vaccinated and evaluated all while remaining in their vehicles.
"It's very convenient," Deb Scheer, director of emergency preparedness, said.
Palmer said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention develops a new vaccination each year based on the strains of flu circling the globe. Scheer pointed out that viruses change all the time.
This year's flu vaccine contains strains of H1NI - the viral culprit of the 2009 swine flu pandemic - H3N2, Type A and Type B.
Palmer advised against getting the flu shot too early, such as in August, because the vaccination's efficacy will be comprised during the long flu season.
Scheer also added that it takes two weeks for the injected vaccine to begin protecting against viruses.
A yearly vaccination is recommended for nearly everybody, but figures released late last month show that just 52 percent of children and 39 percent of adults were immunized last year.
The best protected were tots ages 6 months to 23 months; 75 percent were vaccinated last year, up from 68 percent the previous year.
Only 66 percent of senior citizens were immunized last year, even though they are at especially high risk of severe illness or death if they catch the flu.
Older adults got a little lost in the recent public health push to explain that flu vaccine benefits all ages - and it's time to target them again, said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a flu specialist with the CDC.
In contrast, child deaths from flu have made headlines in recent years - the U.S. counted 34 pediatric deaths last year - raising parents' awareness of the risk, he said.
The only people who shouldn't get vaccinated: babies younger than 6 months and those with severe allergies to the eggs used to make the vaccine.
Flu specialists can't say how bad this winter's flu season might be. Influenza strains constantly evolve, and some cause more illness than others. Last year's season was considered mild.
Palmer said the department would set up a clinic similar to the one held Tuesday in the event of a large outbreak.
"Our worst nightmare would be a mass pandemic," he said.
- The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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