This year local health departments will be charging a $25 fee for regular seasonal flu shots due to state budget constraints and the increased cost of vaccine.

Michael Echelle, administrative director for Pontotoc County Health Department, said those with insurance and resources to pay will be assessed the fee. No fee will be assessed for persons who are on Medicare and do not belong to an HMO, for those who are on Sooner Care (Medicaid), and for those children who are eligible for the Vaccines for Children program.

Others may be eligible for fee waivers based on income. Persons with questions are encouraged to phone the Pontotoc County Health Department.

“What’s important to remember is that the modest cost of getting a flu shot is far less than the cost of having the flu, feeling miserable for a week, missing work, and essentially losing a week of your normal life,” said Echelle. “And for many, the consequences of getting the flu can be even greater. When considered in that context, the flu shot is a bargain. No one will be denied a flu shot due to their inability to pay. Voluntary donations will be accepted.”

Echelle said the H1N1 influenza pandemic emphasized the importance of flu shots for everyone last year and Pontotoc County Health Department is gearing up for another busy flu season this year.

“Forty-three Oklahomans died from H1N1 influenza last year, so we encourage everyone in Pontotoc County to protect them and their families this year by getting their annual flu shot,” Echelle said. “People will only have to get one type of vaccine since the H1N1 vaccine will be incorporated into the regular seasonal flu vaccine that will be given this fall.”

Echelle urges the public to check with their doctor or pharmacy about the availability of flu vaccine.  

Flu shots will also be available at the Pontotoc County Health Department for anyone who wants to be protected from influenza.

The shot is especially recommended for children 6 months of age up to their 19th birthday, pregnant women, persons 50 years of age or older, persons with chronic medical conditions, residents who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, and persons who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from the flu, including health care workers.

Echelle emphasized that flu can be a serious disease. Each year about 60 million Americans get seasonal influenza, resulting in about 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations.

He suggested Pontotoc County residents “take three actions” to prevent the flu:

First, take time to get vaccinated for seasonal flu. Second, take those everyday preventive actions to keep from spreading flu viruses: cover coughs, wash hands, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. If sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Third, take flu antiviral drugs if a doctor prescribes them, especially if at increased risk of complications from the flu.

For more information, phone the Pontotoc County Health Department at (580) 332-2011.