The Mississippi Department of Health is widening the effort to vaccinate against swine flu to include all of the high-priority groups as the traditional flu season gets closer.

“We hope to have it opened up to the general public in the next few weeks,” said Dr. Paul Byers, an epidemiologist with the state health department and the interim health officer for the Northeast Mississippi public health district.

Now both injectible and nasal vaccines against 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) will be available at county health departments for free. The nasal vaccine can be given to healthy children and adults between the ages of 2 and 49.

Seasonal flu vaccine, which also is recommended and available, costs $10 for children under 18 and $25 for adults at county health departments.

Since receiving 2009 H1N1 vaccine in October, the state health department has focused much of its efforts on pregnant women, children 4 and younger, and the caregivers of infants.

Nearly 575,000 doses of swine flu vaccine have been allocated to the state and have been divided among the school vaccine clinics, private providers and county health departments.

Right now in Mississippi and the nation, swine flu cases are ebbing.

“We peaked after school started in late August and September,” Byers said. “Now we’re coming down to where we normally are this time of year.”

But that doesn’t mean the flu is done for the winter.

“Our typical flu season really gets started in December and January and peaks in February,” Byers said.

The open question is: Will 2009 H1N1 continue to dominate or will seasonal flu make a comeback? Public health leaders are recommending people get vaccinated against both.

“We’re going to have a flu season,” Byers said. “We need to be ready for both.”

Good response

The state health department has been pleased with response to the voluntary school vaccine clinics.

Private providers have adopted 576 schools, meaning their staff members will offer students the shots. The health department is covering 440 schools with its staff.

“They have stepped up to the plate,” Byers said.

The Tupelo Public School District had nearly 2,000 students receive shots through the health department and Access Family Health, which adopted Carver School.

“We had a lot of participation,” said Tupelo schools assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell.

As part of the Adopt-A-School program, Magnolia Regional Medical Center and the health department were able to vaccinate more than 1,000 students.

The school vaccination clinics will likely take a few more weeks to reach all the schools that wish to participate, Byers said. Lee County Schools’ vaccine programs are scheduled to continue through early December.

Some schools have already started the second round of shots required for children 9 and under, which have to be given at least 21 days after the first shot.

“We’ve had good success,” Byers said. “Most kids do really well.”

Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or

Michael Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

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