LAUREL – Kristine Holmes, 57, started organizing health clinics at a local church. Then she organized H1N1 vaccinations for all Howard County students.
Now, Holmes is organizing vaccinations for the rest of the county — and this week she vaccinated out of a converted RV.
The Howard County Health Department sent out a “healthmobile” this week as part of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s statewide effort to vaccinate approximately 500,000 more people against H1N1.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is promoting vaccination as part of National Public Health Week, which runs through April 11.
“Vaccination Free for All,” Maryland’s campaign, enlisted more than 150 existing clinics around the state to give the free vaccinations, and spent $150,000 of federal grant funds to generate radio publicity.
Since most of the remaining vaccine doses will expire soon, the department wants to vaccinate people quickly.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a third wave of H1N1 infections in three southeastern states.
“The vaccine is good for you,” said David Paulson, spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “We still have people, unfortunately, who are dying. The vaccine itself is going to be unusable after the expiration date, by about the end of May. While we’ve got the vaccine … we want to give it to everyone who wanted the opportunity to get it.”
The H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, has symptoms that could be mistaken for the seasonal flu, including a cough and a fever of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The seasonal flu vaccine does not prevent swine flu.
Almost a year after Maryland reported its first case of H1N1, 40 adult and five pediatric deaths associated with the swine flu have been recorded statewide. There have also been 1,087 Maryland hospitalizations connected to H1N1. The latest death of a Baltimore-area citizen was reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention March 31.
There have been 2,096 swine flu- related deaths nationwide and 41,689 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene emphasizes that approximately 81 percent of patients who have died of the swine flu in the state had preexisting health issues.
“We tend to be a society that is reactive rather than proactive. We wait ’til something happens and then say ‘oh gosh why didn’t I do something,'” said Holmes, the H1N1 School Located Influenza Coordinator of Howard County Health Department. “This is one thing you can do ahead of time to stay healthy.”
At least one of the three southeastern states seeing a reoccurrence of H1N1, Georgia, has a particularly low adult vaccination rate. Low vaccination rates are possibly a contributing factor to the resurgence in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maryland received approximately 2.3 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine starting early last September, and an estimated 1.8 million have been used. An estimated 26 percent of the state’s population received a vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Small quantities of the vaccine, approximately 100 to 200 dose-packages, are still being shipped to private providers. The most recent shipment was ordered three weeks ago.
There will likely be a new mixed strain of H1N1 and the seasonal flu by this fall.
Using the “healthmobile,” the Howard County Health Department vaccinated 182 people this week. The county had 11 clinic sessions, including the “healthmobile,” offering the free vaccination this week.
The department has vaccinated approximately 38,000 people already and hopes to reach the 40,000 mark this week through the RV, nursing homes and regular clinics.
Each county’s health department decided how it would execute the H1N1 vaccination campaign this week, but all reported their events back to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
People still have the option to get vaccinated at many pharmacies, community health centers, and certain other locations besides their local health department. However, not all of those locations offer the dose for free.