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Vaccines not mandatory at hospital

Whidbey General Hospital will not require its doctors, nurses or other staff members to get the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

“There are union issues and different obstacles prior to making any medication mandatory,” said infection preventionist Shannon McDonnell, RN.

It’s something she hopes to pursue for future seasonal influenza vaccines, she said. For now, the hospital strongly recommends the vaccinations in addition to vigilant hand washing.

More than half of the hospital’s staff routinely heed the warning, she said. Last year 58 percent of the hospital’s workforce elected to get the seasonal flu vaccine. The national average for other hospitals hovers around 35 percent, she said.

McDonnell anticipates the hospital’s employee vaccination rate to rise this season due to the heightened world-wide scrutiny of flu prevention.

“This year there seems to be more interest in the seasonal vaccine, and so far there’s a lot of verbal interest in the H1N1 vaccine,” she said.

McDonnell said she plans to get the H1N1 vaccine as soon as it’s available for non-priority patients.

The hospital requires all employees who call in sick to describe their symptoms and stay home for seven days after the onset of symptoms to avoid spreading their illness, McDonnell said. This policy is more stringent than the hospital’s recommendation to the public to wait 24 hours after their fever breaks to return to work.

Volunteers are stationed at the hospital’s entrance to advise patients and visitors who show flu-like symptoms to wear masks. Everyone entering the hospital is asked to sanitize their hands, she said.

Those experiencing flu-like symptoms such as fever, coughing, headache and body aches should remain home to reduce the spread of infection, she said.

Contact Island County Public Health at 679-7351 for vaccination clinic locations, or for more information.

According to Island County Health Officer Roger Case, Island County Public Health will announce when the vaccine will be available locally.

We expect enough vaccine to be delivered thru the coming weeks to be able to offer the vaccine to all who wish to receive the vaccine,” he wrote. “The availability will be staggered throughout the next several weeks, and will eventually be available from your own clinic and from numerous pharmacies on Whidbey.”

Public flu shots available

Island County Public Health is holding its third regularly scheduled seasonal flu clinic Thursday, Oct. 15, at the United Methodist Church in Coupeville from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The church is located at 608 N. Main St.

A flu clinic scheduled for Camano Island on Oct. 13 was canceled because of diminished availability of the regular seasonal flu vaccine.

Regular seasonal flu vaccine remains available at several pharmacy operations in the various communities of Whidbey Island and Stanwood.

A news release from Public Health states that the first allotment of the well-publicized novel H1N1 swine flu vaccine will be arriving later this week. Shipment of the vaccine will arrive in small weekly allotments over the next several weeks, but will eventually be plentiful enough for all who wish to receive the vaccine. Initial allotments will be of the nasal mist variety, and will be dispensed on a prioritization basis.

“We contemplate having enough to begin holding clinics for administering the vaccine by the third week of October,” said Dr. Roger Case, Health Officer. “A public announcement will be made regarding these clinics when we have the vaccine in hand.”

Priority will be given to pregnant women, caretakers of infants under 6 months of age, health care workers, EMS personnel, school teachers and children from age 6 months through age 18.

H1N1 vaccine should become available at various clinics and pharmacies throughout the county by late October.

For more information, contact Island County Public Health at 360-321-5111, ext. 7351, or 679-7351, or visit the Web site at www.islandcounty.net/health.

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