SIKESTON - A nasal spray influenza vaccine is available for the first time this year offering longer protection without breaking the skin, but many area flu shot providers are taking a "wait and see" stance this year.
The Visiting Nurse Association of Southeast Missouri and Ferguson Medical Group are among those health care providers in the area offering the nasal spray vaccination.
"We have a few doses of that available for those who want to try it," said Helen Sander, professional communication liaison for Southeast Missouri's VNA.
"We do have both the injectable and the intranasal," confirmed Ceretha Rucker, director of nursing for Ferguson Medical Group. "It's only available for healthy people between the ages of 5-49, but it does provide one full year of protection."
The nasal spray vaccination is more costly, ranging from about $50 to $70 while the shot is available for between $12 and $20, which is right around cost for the vaccine.
"And insurance doesn't cover the nasal yet - its experimental, still new," Sander said. Rucker noted that it is also not covered by Medicaid or Medicare.
Dr. Alywin Kluttz at Sikeston Urgent Care said as this is the first year the nasal spray has been offered, he prefers to stick with the shot.
"It's for such a limited age range," Kluttz said, noting many of Sikeston Urgent Care's patients are not within the licensed age bracket for the intranasal vaccination.
Kluttz predicted the nasal spray's use will eventually broaden, however, as it is tested on a wider range of people.
The SEMO Health Network's clinics, which began offering flu vaccination Friday, are also offering only the shot this year.
"We really are encouraging all our patients to come out get the flu shot because the SEMO Health Network is here to provide quality health care but also to offer preventative measures to keep them healthy," said Cheryl White, chief operating officer for the SEMO Health Network. "We really encourage preventative measures for our patients."
SEMO Health Network clinics are open from 8-5 p.m. with their larger clinics in Sikeston and New Madrid staying open late on Thursdays until 7 p.m.
"It is on a walk-in basis only - you do not have to have an appointment," said White. "They don't even have to see a doctor or nurse practitioner unless they are a new patient, on Medicare or sick."
Whether you choose the nasal spray or injection, Sander recommended that everyone who is able to should be vaccinated. "I think that if more people take the vaccine, then they will take care of the spread of the disease so that even those who don't take it have a lesser chance of getting the flu," said Sander.
People who seem to get a bad cold each winter "probably had the flu - they just haven't identified it as that," Sander said. "It's real hard to tell. A real bad cold is probably the flu."
On the other hand, while most people recover in five to seven days, between 20,000 and 30,000 people died from influenza or related complications last year, according to Kluttz. "That's more than most people would think," he said. "It can be a fatal disease to people with chronic medical problems."
Those who don't take the vaccine or who manage to get the flu before their vaccination becomes effective should still visit a health care provider.
"There are a few medications that will lessen the severity and duration of the illness," Kluttz said. It only works, however, if taken within the first day or two after coming down with the flu.
* Sikeston Urgent Care in Sikeston will begin offering the flu shot Oct. 20 and will continue to offer the vaccine through the season's end around March, "but we don't tend to administer much after the end of the year," Kluttz said. "The earlier you get the shot the better."
The shots will be available there on a walk-in basis from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, although people may call in ahead if they prefer.
* Ferguson Medical Group is planning on offering vaccinations around Oct. 15 "based on the CDC recommendations," Rucker said. "They need to call their physician for an appointment."
* VNA will be offering clinics in this area at the Medicine Shop on Oct. 16 and at the Sikeston VNA office Oct. 30. No appointments are necessary.
"I try to get the vaccine out to as many people as possible before Thanksgiving," Sander said. As the flu shot takes around two weeks to become fully effective, being vaccinated two weeks before the holiday can help prevent the spread of influenza during gatherings of family and friends.
Sander said she is also available to schedule additional flu shot clinics for groups by request.
If someone is unable to come to a clinic and still want to be vaccinated, they may be able to do so at the VNA office but should call first to see if a nurse is available to administer the vaccine.
For those with difficulty getting out of their vehicle, VNA nurses will come outside and administer "drive by shootings" at offices or during clinics.
Also, VNA nurses will come to homes and administer the vaccinations at a slightly increased price.
* Vaccinations are also available from county health departments for the county's residents. The New Madrid County Health Department will begin offering vaccinations Oct. 10.