Ventura County residents hoping for flu shots at public clinics should act quickly, because the county Public Health Department expects to run out of serum by the end of the week.
But even as the department's supply diminishes, private companies and health-care organizations around the county are gearing up with immunization clinics to head off a spate of winter illnesses.
"We continue to encourage people to get the vaccine," said Lin Glusac, the county's immunization coordinator.
The Ventura County Public Health Department provides shots for $5 to people considered at highest risk for complications from the disease, including adults over the age of 60, health-care providers, people with compromised immune systems and people of any age with chronic health problems.
Glusac said that almost 12,000 doses of the vaccine, provided by the California Department of Health Services, will have been administered by Friday. Last year, the county gave out 10,000 doses of the serum, leaving it with a surplus at the end of flu season.
Although flu season will not be in full swing until early next month, Glusac said education and experience have made people seek flu shots in record numbers earlier than in previous years.
The body takes up to two weeks to build its immunity, so public health officials recommend that people get their flu shots now.
Although influenza is common, and its fever, aches and respiratory inflammation go away within a few days for most people, the malady is not to be taken lightly, said Dr. Gary Feldman, the county's public health officer.
"It is potentially very serious, particularly for folks at highest risk," Feldman said. "Many people die from it."
The flu shots are a good idea for healthy adults as well, Feldman said.
"We recommend it for anyone, but given our limited resources, we provide it on a priority basis for those at higher risk," Feldman said.
This year's vaccine provides immunity from what are expected to be the three most virulent and easily transmitted strains. They are known as A/Texas, A/Johannesburg and B/Harbin, a strain similar to the infamous Beijing strain of the 1970s.
The federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta develop a vaccine each year based on investigations of dozens of flu strains circulating throughout the world, Feldman said.
"That's more difficult now with all the air travel," he said. "But they are usually right on target."
Although many of the state-provided doses are administered at public clinics, some are passed on to local hospitals that also run flu clinics.
Glusac said a few state-provided doses may be available at hospitals after this week, and that many hospitals have purchased additional supplies because the vaccine is now covered by Medicare Part B. Businesses and doctors' offices throughout the county are also providing the vaccines.
The Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Assn., a private, nonprofit company, provides shots at workplaces as well as public locations like drug and grocery stores.
Last week, Livingston offered injections at Jafra Cosmetics International in Westlake Village. Jafra, which shared the $10 cost for any of its 350 employees, said it was to the company's advantage to offer the shots at work.
"They're out a lot longer when they get sick than just the five or 10 minutes it takes to get a shot," said Lynn Gates, the company's manager of health services.
Livingston also held a clinic at Pictsweet Mushroom Farms in Ventura and was planning other clinics at 3M in Camarillo, Raypak in Westlake and other businesses around the county.
The association also organizes clinics at Sav-On and Long's drugstores in Ventura, Camarillo, Oxnard, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks and other drugstores in Santa Paula and Ojai. Vaccinations are available through mid-November for $10 to anyone age 13 and up.
"We do it as a community service," said Kara Partridge, a spokeswoman for Livingston, based in Ventura. She said the association will bill Medicare for services to those people who are eligible. "We're also using it as a bit of a fund-raiser."
The association, which is funded by Medicare and private insurance payments as well as grants and private fund raising, will provide the injections for free to people who cannot afford them.
The Foundation Health Medical Group is providing the shots for $5 in Ventura on Saturday and in Oxnard Nov. 4.
Last Saturday, Simi Valley Hospital offered a free drive-through clinic.
"It sends the message to people that this is not a big deal and you'll be able to get on with your lives right away," said Alan Rice, president of Simi Valley Hospital.
The American Red Cross will offer a free clinic Thursday at Westlake Medical Center for adults age 60 and over or people of any age with chronic health problems.
Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks offers a free clinic Nov. 11 for people of all ages. Although the hospital receives the serum from the county for free, it provides the employees and supplies as a community service.
"It's critical for our seniors to get the flu shots," said Kris Carraway, a hospital spokeswoman. "We never know how serious the flu will be. Last year, we had many seniors whose flu turned into pneumonia."
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For more information on flu vaccination clinics, call:
* Ventura County Public Health clinics in Ventura at 652-5928, in Oxnard at 385-8652, and in Simi Valley at 584-4887; Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Assn. at 642-0239; Simi Valley Hospital at 527-2462; Los Robles Regional Medical Center at 497-2727; Westlake Medical Center at 497-7806; Foundation Health Medical Group in Ventura at 641-2000 or Oxnard at 988-3300.