While it wasn’t prominent until earlier this year, this flu season is on a par with prior years with 135 cases and three flu-related deaths being reported by the state Department of Health as of Tuesday.
Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken said the state is in the “top tier” of alerts for “widespread flu.”
“It’s not too late,” said department director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, who was interviewed earlier this month. She urged people to get the flu vaccination if they haven’t already done so.
The only municipally-sponsored clinic scheduled in the state so far is Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Pilgrim Senior Center in Warwick. A Connect-Ed message went out to parents in the City of Warwick via the School Department announcing the clinic.
In a statement Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian also urged people to get vaccinated.
“Ensuring the health and safety of our residents and neighbors begins with taking a proactive approach to healthcare. Those who have not been vaccinated are encouraged to do so to avoid contracting the virus,” he said.
Wendelken said that this year’s vaccination covers several strains of flu and, unlike previous years when the vaccine was difficult to obtain, “there’s an abundance.” Furthermore, he noted while state public flu clinics have been held, in addition to clinics like that at the Pilgrim Senior Center, the vaccine is available at pharmacies. He said if the vaccine is not covered by insurance or the person is without insurance and faces an issue with payment, they should contact the department at 222-5960.
As for the Warwick clinic on Thursday, no pre-registration is necessary. Those attending will be asked to complete a form and to bring along their insurance card.
According to Warwick Community Wellness Nurse/Wellness Coordinator Patricia Seltzer, RN, the entire family ages three and up may be vaccinated at this clinic. High dose will also be available for seniors age 65 and older, she said.
She said concerns over the number of flu cases and the need to get out the word on vaccinations was raised at a meeting of the Ocean State Immunization Coalition last week. The Wellness Company that the state contracts to conduct its school flu clinics had planned a clinic in Westerly for last Thursday and, on the basis of the response to that event, Seltzer went ahead with organizing the one for this Thursday. She said the Wellness Company would run the Warwick clinic and she would be available to administer the vaccine in addition to the Wellness Company nurses.
“We have a lot of flu-like illness, there’s something definitely going around,” Seltzer said when asked if she had seen many flu cases at the senior center. She thought the flu had actually had a higher impact on the center staff than the seniors.
“It’s been a quiet flu season and now it’s hitting,” said Lesa Volpe, who oversees the school vaccination program for the Wellness Company. Depending on the turnout to the Warwick clinic and requests, she said the company would work with other municipalities to conduct clinics. She said there would be no additional charge to the state, as she expects the administrative cost of conducting the clinics will be covered by insurance.
Volpe said that school-clinic vaccinations to children, which numbered about 30,000 this year, are down about 10,000 from last year. The number didn’t alarm her, speculating that many parents prefer to have their children vaccinated in the privacy of their doctor’s office.
She noted that vaccines would be administrated to children this Thursday. Pharmacies are not permitted to administer the vaccine to children, she said.
Wendelken said it is difficult to track the actual cases of flu, as it is identified when people are hospitalized. He said with symptoms of the flu, people should get rest and stay hydrated. He said the flu should run its course in a week to a week and a half.
Typically, he said, the flu has its greatest impact on the elderly. He stressed the importance of healthcare workers, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions to get vaccinated.
James Beardsworth, spokesman for Kent Hospital said the level of flu cases this year is on a par with past years.
“We’re seeing flu cases, but nothing more than last year,” he said.