Vaccine not yet available locally

As the year heads into fall, the flu season returns along with people lining up to get a flu shot.

But those wanting flu shots shouldn't start rolling up their sleeves just yet. The Pratt County Health Department has received no indication when they will be getting the flu vaccine, said Debbie McGraw, director of Pratt County Public Health.

As long as they haven't received the vaccine, they will wait before announcing when shots will be available.

"We haven't set a start date yet," McGraw said.

Knowing when the vaccine will be available varies from year to year. The flu virus doesn't always progress the same way and it takes a while to produce the vaccine once the strain is established.

"It's a difficult beast to predict," McGraw said. "I haven't seen anything yet."

When the vaccine is available, the county will offer it only through the county health department on South Main.

In the past, the department has set up off site locations where people could just drive through and get a vaccination. However, because of liability issues, the department is no longer allowed to go out of the facility to give vaccinations.

"We can't do remote shots as in years past," McGraw said.

While they were waiting for the flu shot to become available, the county health department had to go through revalidation with Medicare to be able to give vaccinations to those insured through Medicare.

The department has to go through revalidation every five years and it is an extensive process. There are multiple, multiple pages and every answer in every dropdown box question has to be answered correctly before the revalidation is granted, McGraw said.

The department started revalidation earlier this summer and got some much-appreciated help from Pratt County Emergency Services to fill out all the information.

Getting revalidation for Medicare is vital for the department. They will not pay for flu vaccinations until revalidation is complete.

"The Medicare population is our biggest population. We want to be able to deal with Medicare," McGraw said.

It's hard to forecast how severe the flu will be from year to year. A total of 12,343 hospitalizations took place in the U.S. from Oct. 12, 2012 to April 30, 2013.

That does not account for all the people who got the flu and treated at home rather than go to the hospital.

Last year the department got low on vaccinations and referred people to Dillions where the vaccine was still available.

For now, flu activity remains low in the U.S. but it won't be long until it will make its way around the country so when the vaccine is available, notification will be in the Tribune when shots will be available.