To the editor:
H1N1 continues to be in the news on a daily basis.
Currently most of Asia is experiencing intense H1N1 activity. Here in the U.S., we are still seeing abnormally high levels of swine flu hospitalizations and deaths as compared to past flu seasons. However, recent statistics indicate that swine flu has reached peak levels and is slowly declining in our area. Nevertheless, this does not diminish the importance of getting immunized. Like other pandemics, the virus is known to have periods of "waxing and waning" and when it returns, it may be in a more virulent form. Therefore, it is important to not be caught off guard.
Getting vaccinated will protect you from this disease now and through the coming spring when it is most likely to peak again. Vaccination not only protects you, but also others who are unable to be immunized because of age (less than 6 months) or diseases and conditions for which the vaccine is contraindicated. In other words, the more people who are vaccinated means that there are fewer people to transmit the disease to others. This is how smallpox was eradicated worldwide.
Since immunizing the public against disease is a primary mission of boards of health, Salem has been preparing to hold large clinics for those at greatest risk. Following CDC and state DPH guidelines, and working with the North Shore-Cape Ann Emergency Preparedness Coalition, as well as local school administrators, nurses and volunteers, the Salem Board of Health offered its first large-scale clinic at Salem High School last week. Nearly 1,000 residents ages 6 months to 24 years were immunized along with all previously defined target groups. Both injectable and nasal vaccine was available. As it can be delivered quickly, easily and painlessly, the nasal mist was administered to healthy individuals, 2 to 24 years old. This form of the vaccine is safe and effective and, in fact, all of Mayor Kim Driscoll's three children received the nasal mist without a cringe.
Today (Dec. 17) we will offer another community clinic from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Bentley Elementary School on Memorial Drive. This clinic will be expanded to Salem residents ages 25 to 64 who have chronic medical conditions including diabetes; pulmonary diseases such as asthma and COPD; heart disease (excluding high blood pressure); kidney, liver and blood diseases; neurological, neuromuscular and cognitive disorders; HIV and other diseases that suppress the immune system; and those taking medications that suppress the immune system or long-term aspirin therapy
Additionally, all other priority groups who were previously eligible for prior clinics and have not been vaccinated can come to this clinic. These groups include pregnant women; anyone who lives with a woman who is pregnant; anyone who provides care to infants under the age of 6 months; health-care workers, EMTs, or others having direct patient contact; infants, children and young adults age 6 months to 24 years; and infants, children and young adults age 6 months through 9 years who have had the first H1N1 immunization at least 21 days prior to this clinic (and can bring written documentation of the date of the first dose), and therefore are now eligible for the required second dose.
Residents with health insurance should bring their card as the city may be eligible to receive reimbursement for the administration of the vaccine. Regardless, the vaccine is free of charge for everyone.
Once more vaccine becomes available, the Salem Board of Health will announce clinics for the next target groups, beginning with healthy adults 25 to 64 years old, and then adults 65 and older.
The goal of the Board of Health is first and foremost to preserve and promote the health of the community. If you have any questions, please call our office at 978-741-1800. Further information on the H1N1 is also available at www.mass.gov/flu or www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.
Dr. Barbara Poremba
Chairperson, Salem Board of Health
(Editor's note: The Peabody Board of Health is also offering free H1N1 vaccine today from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Torigian Community Life Center, 79 Central St. For more information, call 978-538-5758.)