Clinics plan for busy flu season with early vaccinations

Local clinics including Group Health are expected to begin offering shots for seasonal flu earlier this year, part of the planning for “what could be a very tough flu season this fall,” the state health secretary said Thursday.

And health officials hope to begin offering a swine flu vaccine as early as October, said Mary Selecky, the health secretary, who was attending a swine flu summit in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, part of a national effort to begin preparing for what could be a double dose of flu and flu shots this year.

Even if they do get a swine flu shot out by October, Selecky and other health officials at Thursday’s meeting emphasized the ­importance of getting seasonal flu shots this year, Selecky said.

“Seasonal flu vaccine is extremely important,” she said. “Don’t wait to get it. Get it when it comes out.”

Group Health began planning to move up the dates it will offer seasonal flu shots several weeks ago, anticipating that a second shot for swine flu may become available, said spokesman Kurt Williamson.

The first shots for seasonal flu vaccine will be offered Oct. 12, about two weeks earlier than usual, he said.

The Everett Clinic, which has offices throughout Snohomish County, will begin offering the seasonal flu shot on Oct. 5, said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who helps organize the annual flu vaccination campaigns.

The Snohomish Health District, which provides seasonal flu shots at its clinics in Everett and Lynnwood, will “offer it as early as we get it,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer.

Ann Moore, director of nursing for Providence Physician Group, said she expects more people to line up for seasonal flu shots because of all the publicity about swine flu.

“They’ll probably take it a little more seriously this year,” she said. “These flu bugs will continue to … morph into more deadly viruses over the course of time.”

Swine flu has killed four Washington residents, including two men in Snohomish County, one from Lynnwood and one from Snohomish.

Representatives from area clinics, pharmacies, hospitals and health insurance groups are scheduled to meet at the Snohomish Health District offices in Everett this morning to continue planning for the anticipated continued spread of swine flu in the fall.

Although federal officials said on Thursday that the swine flu vaccine could become available in October, the vaccine is still in production and has to go through testing before it can be distributed, Goldbaum said.

“None of us want to administer it until we all know that it will be safe and effective,” he said.

Although seasonal flu shots are now widely recommended, from toddlers to seniors, swine flu vaccine would probably initially be targeted to those groups most affected by that virus so far. This includes: school students 18 and under, adults who work in schools, pregnant woman and people with asthma and other health conditions that could cause them to be become seriously ill from the flu.

Meanwhile, Washington and other states across the nation are expected to hear today how much federal money they will get to help with swine flu preparations, Selecky said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486,

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