COLUMBUS, GA - Beginning Wednesday, December 9, all 16 county health departments in the West Central Health District are opening H1N1 vaccine to the general public. "Currently, all of the health departments have H1N1 vaccine on hand," said West Central Health District Health Director Dr. Zsolt Koppányi.
Koppányi explained that the State of Georgia and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have relaxed restrictions to the vaccine, thereby opening the way for the District to make it available to the general population.
Initial H1N1 vaccine doses were offered to five priority groups most at risk of developing complications from the virus and the West Central Health District will continue to emphasize these priority groups.
Koppányi said, "The timing of the state and CDC decision worked out well for us. A shipment of H1N1 vaccine arrived in the District this week, however, as the public access to the vaccine increases, we still may have periods of vaccine shortages during this flu season".
Koppányi was also quoted as saying, "Our health departments have been getting calls from people who are frustrated because they want the vaccine and aren't in the populations targeted to get the initial doses," he said. "We are happy that, with the restrictions relaxed, we can offer H1N1 vaccine to everyone who wants it."
While some administrative fees may be charged to either Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance, the H1N1 vaccine is free to the public at all county health departments.
Although the pandemic seems to be slowing – with fewer cases being reported in Georgia and nationally – residents should remain on guard, cautioned Koppányi.
"Having a supply of the vaccine available at a time when cases are declining offers us a window of opportunity to get more of the population vaccinated before the holidays," he said. It takes around two weeks for the body to achieve full immunity from a vaccination.
"What we typically see in a pandemic are a series of waves," Koppányi explained. "Our concern is that holiday gatherings and travel will give the influenza virus a chance to infect more people and trigger another wave."
Koppányi also reminded the public to continue basic prevention methods that help keep flu and other contagious diseases from spreading: