An early assessment of the countywide "Flu Shot Saturday" clinics held at nine sites last weekend shows a 75 percent drop from the number of people who were vaccinated last year, said Sonoma County's top public health official.
"The fact that we're seeing lower numbers in these clinics, we want to reinforce with people how important it is to get immunized," said Sonoma County Public Health Officer Mary Maddux-Gonzalez.
The vaccination day was organized by a countywide flu task force that includes representatives from local hospitals, community clinics, the county health department and Empire College.
The sites included the Alexander Valley Regional Medical Center in Cloverdale, Healdsburg District Hospital, the Berger Center in Oakmont, the Petaluma Health Center, Empire College and Alliance Medical Center in Windsor.
Maddux-Gonzalez said flu-related illness in the county remains low, as in most of the country. But she warned that this year's flu contains multiple virus strains, giving it a much broader reach than last year's swine flu.
"We want everybody over six months of age to get vaccinated," she said. "And we're particularly concerned about seniors because of their higher risk of complications from the flu."
She speculated that people who received the H1N1 vaccination didn't think they needed a new flu shot this year. She also noted that this year's vaccine is widely available at pharmacies, doctors' offices and medical centers.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, is asking older adults to get vaccinated against the flu strains that are likely to spare no age group this. Last year, seniors over 65 were immune, for the most part, to the H1N1 virus.
But the CDC says the year-long reprieve is likely over.
"Last year was an anomaly all the way around," said CDC spokesman Jeff Dimond. "Looks like this year, there's a little bit of flu for everyone."
As predicted last February by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization, this year's seasonal flu contains three types: 2009 H1N1 viruses; the A H3N2 virus and type B virus.
Flu this year could reach a broader population, Dimond said, with swine flu affecting young people, H3N2 having a history of infecting older people and the type B strain usually hitting all ages.
Dimond said type B flu is the most significant strain now circulating in Georgia, where levels of flu illness have been higher than any other part of the country.
"A 63-year-old woman in Georgia has already died within the last couple weeks," he said.
As part of a weeklong campaign to get more Americans vaccinated, the CDC has declared today Older Adults Vaccination Day. Adults 65 and older have some of the highest rates of hospitalization and death from the flu, especially when compared with young, healthy adults because the body's ability to fight illness weakens with age.
When swine flu struck in April last year, the world was caught off guard and the next season's flu vaccine had already been formulated by the CDC's advisory committee, Dimond said. It would be months before a swine flu vaccine was developed and distributed.
This year, the CDC's panel of experts has been "dead on right," he said, adding that all three of the antigens in this year's vaccine have been "very, very good" matches for the strains that are now circulating.
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