Flu shot availability expanded throughout county

ST. MARYS - With flu season upon us, many are finding more options exist than ever before when it comes to when and where they can get the vaccine. Whereas before, flu shot providers were limited essentially to doctors and physicians, now there are a variety of officially sanctioned providers, including pharmacies and nurse- run clinics, to administer the vaccine. The increased availability is the result of a nationwide effort on part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to increase vaccination rates among the public. Ann Bauer, public relations/marketing coordinator for Community Nurses, Inc., said the nurses founded the Flu Coalition, comprised of the Elk Regional Physicians Group and Community Nurses for public health purposes in 1993 "because shots weren't being offered except through physician's offices and weren't readily available to people." The coalition provides flu shots through clinics, open to the public, that are stationed at doctor's offices and area senior centers around the county. Bauer said the turnout at Community Nurses' flu shot clinics throughout the county have seen a marked decline, adding that it is likely a result of greater availability on a walk-in basis at a wider array of locations, rather than an indication that fewer people are pursuing vaccination. In fact, the CDC states that vaccination rates are up overall and is encouraging the public to get vaccinated earlier in the year. Previously, conventional wisdom said that the best time of year to get inoculated was in October, considered the beginning of the flu season. The CDC has since issued a recommendation stating that the public should receive the vaccine as soon as it is available, which is as early as Labor Day in most locations. Bauer said that the Community Nurses will continue to offer flu shots for the duration of the flu season or until March, on a walk-in basis, at the Community Nurses office located at 757 Johnsonburg Rd. in St. Marys Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Bauer added that generally Medicare or insurances will cover the cost, and without coverage, a flu shot costs $25. Molly Beimel, a pharmacist at St. Marys Pharmacy, said that the CDC, in an effort to increase availability, established training programs nationwide in which pharmacists could become certified to distribute the flu vaccinations, thereby "increasing vaccination rate across the country." Beimel said the pharmacy, following CDC guidelines in doing, so has been administering flu shots since 2008. She added that the turnout so far this season has been typical of years past.