Flu shot County Health Department

Calhoun County Health Dept. RN Amanda Watson gives Wanda Huggins of Oxford a flu shot during a free flu clinic at the Calhoun County Health Dept. in Anniston. (Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star)

The Calhoun County Health Department is giving free flu shots Friday, Jan. 19, as part of a statewide strategy to slow an ongoing outbreak of the disease.

Nurses at the health department on 3400 McClellan Blvd. will administer free flu vaccinations to anyone from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday while supplies last. The department held a similar flu clinic Thursday, along with other departments across Alabama, to help fight a rise in infections that’s above average for this time of year.

The Alabama Department of Public Health ordered last week that the health departments provide the free clinics to the public to fight the outbreak.

The state Health Department on Friday reported that hospitals were at 90 percent capacity in seven of eight state health districts because of the flu outbreak. Health officials have said the current flu isn’t much different from strains in previous years, but the vaccine for it appears less effective, contributing to the rise in infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the vaccine is still the best way to prevent flu infection.

Health officials have also said the situation hadn’t reached pandemic levels, but that the county and state have had more cases of the flu than average.

Wanda Huggins of Oxford got her free flu vaccination at the county health department Thursday afternoon. Huggins, who was the third vaccination recipient at the flu clinic Thursday, said she learned about the event from her daughter, who works at the health department.

“I didn’t have the money to get a shot,” Huggins said. “I would have gotten a shot before now if I could afford it.”

The county health department typically provides annual flu shots to people using Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. The department also normally sells vaccinations out-of-pocket for $15 a shot.

Amanda Watson, a registered nurse who was helping administer flu shots Thursday, said all residents should vaccinate every year if possible.

“Even if they still catch the flu, the vaccine still does decrease the symptoms,” Watson said.

Watson added that even if the vaccine is not as effective as previous years, it’s better than nothing.

“We recommend you still get it,” she said.

Colleen Green, another registered nurse helping with the flu clinic Thursday, said residents shouldn’t worry about the vaccine making them sick.

“The big myth is if you get the shot it could give you the flu, but that’s just not true,” Green said.

The health department isn’t trying to fight the flu outbreak alone. Regional Medical Center and Stringfellow Memorial Hospital, managed by RMC, along with RMC Jacksonville, began visitation restrictions last week to help prevent flu infections. The hospitals have reported higher than normal emergency room visits in recent weeks because of the flu.

Area hospital restrictions include allowing only two adults to visit any patient at one time. Also, since children are more vulnerable to the flu, those under 12 years old are temporarily prohibited from hospital visits.

Also, the hospitals have been distributing protective masks to visitors for free.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.