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SHERIDAN — This week marks the official start of flu season, and health officials are emphasizing the importance of vaccination as a means of prevention.
“As with any flu season, there’s no way to predict whether its’ going to be a particularly bad one,” said Toby Granger, registered nurse at the Sheridan County Public Health clinic. “But, of course, we want to prepare for the absolute worst by getting a flu shot.”
Granger said almost everyone six months and older should get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available. After vaccination, immunity begins to build immediately and reaches its maximum level after about two weeks.
The first week of October is when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention starts keeping an official count of confirmed cases of the dreaded affliction. Spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health, Kim Deti, indicated in a press release there have already been a handful of reports in the state.
The Wyoming Department of Health said last year, there were 14 seasonal influenza-associated deaths, which is the most in the past 10 years.
“The big point we want to make as a public health agency is get your flu shot, whether you have to go to the pharmacy or your doctor or come to one of our community clinics,” Granger said.
The Public Health Clinic is hosting two mass vaccination events next week. One is Monday, Oct. 7 in the Junior High School Gymnasium, and the other is Wednesday, October 9th, in the High School Gym. Both events at the schools are from 3-6 p.m. There will also be a clinic at the Sheridan Senior Center from noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, the 9th.
This year is the first that free flu shots will not be made available to students within Sheridan County School District #2 during the regular school day. Granger explained the school flu vaccination program lost critical funding necessary to offer free flu shots to students in Sheridan County’s school districts.
The districts were offered the opportunity to cover the cost of vaccination for the students, and while districts one and three agreed, district two declined.
Assistant Superintendent of SCSD#2 Terry Burgess said the project was cost prohibitive for the district, which is by far the largest in the county.
“That would be an expense that would require us to make decisions on what else we were going to drop,” he said.
Burgess elaborated that last year, when external funding was provided, only about one third of students, which is about 1,000, took advantage of the opportunity to get the free inoculation. He also said the cut-rate price of the shots went from approximately $10 last year to $15 each this year.
Granger explained the price increase is because the Public Health clinic chose to offer a more protective vaccine this year — the Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine, which is effective against four different flu virus strains. In years past, less protective, and therefore less expensive, vaccine was also offered.
While School District #2 cannot pick up the extra $15,000 for the students who would normally get a vaccine via the school system, Burgess said the public clinics will provide an opportunity for both district students and community members to be vaccinated. The district is still allowing use of its facilities for the clinics.
“We have the expectation that insurance, parents or (Medicaid) will pay for the shots this year,” he said, adding that between social assistance programs and individual initiative, no student should have to go unvaccinated this year.
“It’s still a choice. Two-thirds of parents chose not to use the school’s program and took their kids to the to doctor or health clinic themselves last year,” he said.
“The better and more vigilant our community is at getting a flu shot, the better protected we are as a community,” Granger said, adding the spread of the flu can also be controlled by hand washing, covering coughs and having sick people stay home.