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Public health officials prepare for 2012-13 flu season

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CANTON - North country public health agencies are eliminating free or low-cost influenza vaccines for insured children so vaccines through the federal Vaccines for Children Program are reserved for uninsured children.

North country Public Health officials say that doesn’t mean insured children can’t get vaccinated at public health clinics. Their parents or guardians will either have to pay an up-front cost or the public health agencies will bill insurance companies, if applicable.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the VFC program “provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay.” The federal organization buys flu vaccines at a discount and distributes them to grantees, such as public health agencies, according to the CDC website. The fee for that vaccine is $35.

For now, St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties’ public health agencies just bill Medicare to cover the cost for eligible recipients. Representatives from both agencies said seeking contracts with insurance companies for billing is something that’s on their radar.

“We’ve looked at other vaccines for billing, but there’s so much flu (vaccine) available,” said Faith E. Lustik, Jefferson County Public Health Service health planner.

Ordering fewer doses of the vaccine isn’t something new to area public health agencies. Not only can people get the vaccine at their primary care provider, but it’s also more readily available throughout north country communities.

“We ordered 1,000 doses for this year, which is less than last year,” said Laura A. Duval, registered nurse and St. Lawrence County Public Health director of preventive services. “It’s basically because it’s available through retailers in the county.”

St. Lawrence County residents can get the vaccine for $20 at immunization clinics throughout the county.

Each county public health agency also utilizes flu season to practice emergency preparedness and rapid immunization. That will take place Thursday in St. Lawrence County. Flu shots given during these public drills will be free.

If people can’t make it to one of the emergency preparedness drills for a free flu shot, they can get them through their primary care provider, or their respective public health agency.

For more information, contact the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department at 386-2325.

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