Sedgwick County: H1N1 still a threat

With demand for the H1N1 vaccine waning, the Sedgwick County Health Department is reminding people that a third wave of the flu still could hit.

Sedgwick County has about 48,000 doses left in its supply. So far, about 112,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine have been administered in the county — 54,098 at the county's free clinic and about 57,000 by private providers.

About 22 percent of the county's population has been vaccinated, said Becky Tuttle, an incident commander for the county's response to the H1N1 outbreak.

"Demand is slowing down, but we're really trying to keep the message to the public that it's still important to get vaccinated for H1N1," Tuttle said. "It's free, it's convenient, and it's easy."

Statewide, 27 deaths have been confirmed as linked to H1N1, said Mike Heideman, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Five deaths occurred in the Wichita metropolitan area, which includes Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey and Sumner counties.

The 2009 H1N1 flu strain was first identified in April and a second wave of infections followed in the fall. At least 15,000 people have died worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Since October, some 126 million vaccine doses have been shipped to states, but only about 75 million Americans have been vaccinated. The federal government has spent $1.6 billion on swine flu vaccine production.

Around the country local health departments are going to great lengths to spread the word that swine flu vaccines are in abundant supply and available free to anyone who wants one.

Their advertising tactics include horseback banners at rodeos and wristbands handed out at nightclubs. Maine officials set up a flu clinic at the high school basketball playoffs, while other health departments are giving patients shots at airports, malls and even a trade show.

The fact that clinics are practically begging people to get vaccinated is a dramatic shift from just a few months ago when people stood in long lines and waited — sometimes for hours — to get the scarce vaccine.

Sedgwick County has set up numerous mobile clinics in churches, malls and schools to encourage residents to get vaccinated.

The Sedgwick County health department's free clinic, at 4095 E. Harry, will remain open through March 26. The clinic no longer will be open Mondays and Saturdays starting today.

Hours will be 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays.

After March 26, remaining H1N1 vaccines will be available at the health department's offices at 2716 W. Central. That location is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays and noon to 6 p.m. Thursdays.

More information is available by calling the health department's H1N1 information center at 316-660-5558 or e-mailing flu@sedgwick.gov.