swine_flu.jpgSan Francisco health officials announced the start of flu season today, saying the seasonal flu vaccine is now available and an H1N1 vaccine will be available for a first wave of patients in mid- to late- October.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health said it will be an uncertain flu season with multiple strains circulating, including H1N1, or swine flu, but officials said they don’t anticipate any seasonal flu vaccine shortages and encouraged everyone to get the shot as soon as possible.

City Supervisor Bevan Dufty received the first flu shot of the season at the Department of Health’s Adult Immunization and Travel Clinic, and San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White received a vaccine as well.

“We want San Francisco to be a model community,” Dufty said. “We want everyone to get a flu shot and follow the golden rules. Wash your hands, cough into your sleeve, stay home if you’re sick.”

The H1N1 vaccine will be available toward the end of October for high-priority patients, including children, pregnant women, the elderly, infant caregivers, emergency response workers and elected officials, according to Dr. Susan Fernyak, who directs the health department’s communicable diseases unit.

A second tier of patients will be vaccinated next, including people with chronic conditions and compromised immune systems, Fernyak said. The vaccine should be available for everybody in December, but she said there should be enough vaccines to prevent serious health risks before then.

“We will be receiving 140,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine in the first two weeks,” Fernyak said. “That’s about what we give in an entire months-long flu season.”

Once the H1N1 vaccine is available, free clinics will be set up throughout the city and county, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office. The goal is to establish 10 to 15 clinic sites within walking distance of schools, and mobile vaccination teams will service schools not within walking distance. Other at-risk populations such as homeless shelters will also be targeted.

On Friday, the Department of Public Health is posting a comprehensive list of places to get seasonal flu vaccines on its communicable diseases Web site, www.sfcdcp.org.
One option is the health department’s Adult Immunization and Travel Clinic, which offers free services and only charges patients for the cost of the vaccines.

To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, the clinic is offering a deal through the end of September in which anyone who pays for a seasonal flu shot will receive $10 off any other immunization.

The clinic is also accepting written submissions of true health-related stories for a travel story competition. The winner will receive $500 worth of services at the clinic, and the deadline is Nov. 30.

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