No one enjoys being sick, local health officials say, as they roll out traditional flu shots and prepare to help residents avoid two other respiratory illnesses too in the coming weeks.
Thanks to insurance coverage and state programs that Wayne County Health Department can tap to help the uninsured, no one should have to go without their desired preventive vaccinations, said Christine Stinson, Wayne County Health Department’s executive director.
Health officials can forecast how difficult the United States’ flu season will be based on what already has been occurring in Europe, Stinson said, and they are predicting a hard season for America.
Americans also experienced a difficult season last winter for the respiratory illness best known as RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus, Stinson said. She noted health officials predict the nation will still be hit pretty hard by the respiratory illness in 2023-24.
Stinson recommends those at high risk for RSV get the vaccination.
October is the ideal time to get a flu shot since it’s the beginning of flu season, Stinson said. However, getting the quick needle poke anytime between November and March still can help prevent serious illness.
The vaccine’s protection isn’t immediate because it takes about two weeks for recipients to develop antibodies.
Flu shots are readily available from WCHD or local pharmacies. They can be obtained with a scheduled appointment or just by walking into WCHD’s office in the 100 block of South Fifth Street during its regular hours.
WCHD offers age-appropriate flu shots for ages 6 months and older. It has the high-dose vaccine offering extra protection for those 65-plus.
Stinson said WCHD staff can arrange to travel to workplaces or organizations where 10 or more people want flu shots.
How vaccines are covered
Despite the federal government declaring the pandemic over and covering the costs of COVID vaccinations, it doesn’t mean area residents will have to pay out of pocket for them.
Adults and kids with most health insurance plans should be able to receive flu and/or COVID shots from health departments or pharmacies at no cost to them.
Stinson said WCHD staff will confirm insurance coverage as patients check in. If WCHD doesn’t take their insurance, they will be referred to other providers if desired to help them avoid charges for immunizations.
Adults who aren’t insured can benefit from a state bridge program to cover their vaccinations. Stinson said patients would be charged only a $15 administration fee, but if that fee also poses a challenge, a hardship program is available to cover that cost so that no one is turned away.
Ages 18 and younger who are on Medicaid — or aren’t covered by insurance — also qualify for free vaccinations.
Stinson said WCHD has helped a few patients who don’t want to use their health insurance. Anyone can pay about $130 for a COVID vaccine.
COVID, RSV vaccinations
After waves of COVID-related fatalities since 2020, local deaths linked to the virus have waned. Stinson said Wayne County had three COVID-related fatalities in June but none since because the current variant is less virulent than prior ones.
She said hospitalization rates for COVID remain low in Wayne County, and while there’s been a recent uptick, she said those numbers aren’t like those from 2020-2022.
Stinson said WCHD has had a hiccup in deliveries for the new COVID vaccine from its supplier. Staff who had hoped to be offering COVID shots in late September are eagerly awaiting its arrival.
WCHD also is awaiting delivery of the new vaccine that targets RSV. RSV is perhaps best known for spreading among children 2 and younger, but it can impact any age.
Health officials encourage protecting children in their first year of RSV season. They also encourage seniors, especially those with chronic medical conditions, and pregnant women to consider reducing their risk of serious illness through the vaccine.
Stinson said she will share more detailed information about those who might benefit most from an RSV vaccine when those shots become available locally.
WCHD provides free rapid take-home COVID tests at its office. Stinson recommends picking up three or four tests now to share with friends or having one available for everyone in their household when someone gets sick.
If illness strikes someone who doesn’t have a rapid test on hand, WCHD staff will bring them outside to those calling upon arrival.
Health services at a glance
Wayne County Health Department offers a variety of services on its mobile unit traveling the county and at its office, 100 S. Fifth St., Richmond.
Office hours are 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. The wellness clinic is also open to walk-ins from 8 a.m. to noon on the first Saturday each month.
The outreach clinic visits at least three towns from 2-6 p.m. one day per month. Hagerstown is now served on the first Friday at the township center, 37 E. Main St., coordinating schedules with the food bank. Other visits are at Golay Community Center, 1007 E. Main St., Cambridge City, on the second Wednesday; and Northeastern’s Early Learning Center, 314 W. Main St., Fountain City, on the fourth Wednesday. In addition to flu and other vaccines, the mobile unit offers blood pressure checks and body mass calculations and screenings for concerns ranging from cholesterol to childhood lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted illnesses.
WCHD offers free COVID home tests for pickup. Four free tests also can be requested through the federal government via mail at covidtests.gov.
For more information, call 765-973-9245 or visit www.in.gov/localhealth/waynecounty/ or WCHD’s Facebook page.
A version of this article appeared in the October 11 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.