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— Residents of Benton and Washington counties will be able to get H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines Dec. 11 and 12.

The vaccines will be offered to everyone, not just those at high risk for complications from the viruses, said Ann Wright, director of communications and marketing for the Arkansas Department of Health. She said there should be plenty to go around.

“People don’t have to show up at the crack of dawn,” she said.

Vaccinations will be offered around the state from Dec. 7 to Dec. 18, according to a news release from the department.

Wright said the state will provide about 175,000 doses for mass H1N1 vaccinations around the state. She did not know how many doses will be provided for Benton or Washington counties.

The supply will be divided between counties based on demand and the counties’ capacity to distribute the vaccine, she said.

Clinics provided about 24,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine in October, according to the department’s Web site.

It is the first time the H1N1 vaccine will be offered for free to the general public in Arkansas.

Officials initially focused on using the limited supply of the vaccine to treat at-risk groups, such as pregnant women. Schools have also offered vaccinations to students.

Some private doctors have also offered vaccinations, Wright said.

Health care workers said it is important for everyone to think about getting vaccinated, even though H1N1 activity has declined recently.

Dr. Robert Hopkins, a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said he is worried people could feel a false sense of security about seasonal flu and H1N1.

Flu can rise and fall through the year, so people should not put off getting vaccinated because they think the flu is going away, Hopkins said.

There has not been much seasonal flu activity so far, but it could flare up, he said.

Kyle Weaver, a spokesman for the Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas, said Mercy Medical Center hadabout half as many emergency room visits in November as in October for flu-like illness.

But Dr. Brad Johnson, vice president of physician services for Mercy Medical Center, said there could be a resurgence in the next few weeks or months.

Flu viruses often ebb and flow, he said.

Holiday travel also can stir up flu activity, Johnson said. He said there are many people who have not been vaccinated for H1N1 because the vaccine was in short supply during the recent peak.

The flu season in Arkansas usually starts now and peaks in February, Johnson said.

“So still get vaccinated, still use precautions and do what your mom told you to do when you get sick,” he said.

H1N1 activity is not as bad as it was, but infections are still widespread and deaths are still being reported, Wright said.

There have been 21 H1N1 deaths in the state so far, she said.

News, Pages 3 on 12/02/2009

Print Headline: Flu vaccinations to be offered

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