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Franklin County health boards fight flu clinic change

DEERFIELD — Because of a state policy change, Franklin County boards of health are having to fight to make sure this year is not the last year that towns can run community flu clinics.

The state Department of Public Health is now limiting cities and towns to giving state-donated flu vaccines to uninsured adults and children under 18. Previously, the flu vaccines were available to anyone, according to Deerfield Board of Health member Carolyn Shores Ness.

In response, the Mohawk Area Public Health Coalition — a regional group of the Franklin County boards of health — is asking for a waiver. The coalition drafted a letter this week to the director of the Public Health Immunization Program. It is also reaching out to local legislators.

“This is critical for small volunteer towns. It’s community immunity,” said Ness, co-chair of the regional coalition. “We don’t have a lot of alternatives in Franklin County. We don’t have paid staff or a lot of infrastructure. It’s done with volunteers.”

Under the new policy, towns would have to fill out more paperwork and check individual s’ insurance statuses.

The policy change doesn’t take effect until 2015, Ness said.

The state Department of Public Health Media Relations Manager Anne Roach responded:

“There are no impacts in the upcoming flu season (2014-15). Municipalities will receive the state supplied flu vaccine same as they always have. For the 2015-16 flu season, municipalities will brought in line with other public sites such as community health centers who are limited to providing adult vaccine to uninsured individuals. Insured individuals should be able to use their health insurance at most public flu clinics. Flu vaccine is also readily available at healthcare providers and pharmacies each season. State supplied childhood flu vaccine will continue to be available to all families.

“DPH encourages all individuals 6 months and older to get their flu vaccine every year.”

Each year, the state doles out $15,000 to $20,000 worth of vaccines to participating towns, which run flu clinics and drills for the community.

For eight years, Deerfield, Whately, Conway and Sunderland have organized the Frontier Drive-Thru Flu Clinic, an emergency dispensing site held in the fall at Yankee Candle Way in South Deerfield. The clinic is open to everyone, including nonresidents of the four towns. This will be the clinic’s ninth year.

The flu clinic also serves as training for police, highway employees, town officials and volunteers to prepare for a health emergency when a vaccine has to be distributed to a large amount of people quickly. The clinic provides vaccination to an average of 600 to 700 people in three hours.

“It enables us to practice in a real-life emergency incident,” Ness said. “It’s a way to practice the incident command system and also provide a service to the community.”

Without the state donation, Ness said it’ll be unlikely towns will buy the vaccines.

“Towns don’t have the budget to buy vaccine on their own,” said Ness, who is also chairman of the Deerfield Board of Selectmen.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268. on Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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