Saturday, February 15, 2014

City's Falling Flu Shots Come During Deadly Season

The deadly flu season in Texas continues.  On Valentine's Day reported:

In all, 77 flu deaths have now been reported across North Texas.

They've more than doubled from month ago reports.  In early January The Standard Times reported four deaths from flu at Shannon Medical Center.   That article stated:

Marie Aguilar, nursing manager for the San Angelo Health Department, had not heard reports on the fatalities, adding that state law requires only the reporting of pediatric influenza fatalities.
One might expect flu related deaths to be high on the radar of any public health department, state or local, especially given the CDC's age profile of patients hospitalized for flu this season:

Age groups below 65 years comprise  a greater percentage of those hospitalized, like 2009's H1N1 flu.  That's because the H1N1 flu is back.

State officials are urging the public to get vaccinated for flu shots during the 2013-2014 flu season. Adult vaccinations are available at the (San Angelo) Health Department, Aguilar said. Children’s doses are also available at the health department, but are only administered to uninsured children or children covered by the Medicaid program in accordance with the Texas Vaccines for Children Program.

Historically San Angelo's Health Department gave between 15,000 - 20,000 immunizations in a given year.  Flu shots would've been a portion of the total.  I queried city officials on historical flu shot numbers, specifically those from 2003 to present.    The City could only supply flu shot data on the last five years, which begins with the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009-2010.

The graphic below shows the same information numerically, as well as the number of flu shots left at the Health Department in early January:

The federal government and the State of Texas provided free vaccine to the Health Department in 2009 for the H1N1 pandemic.  As a result roughly 3,000 shots were given free to the public.

This year's deadly flu season is driven by the same version of the flu, H1N1.  Statistics show H1N1 to be over 70% of laboratory confirmed flu in Texas and over 60% nationwide.  Contrast the 2009 widespread outreach with later efforts, the 2012 slashing followed by a limited 2013 offering.

This is but the latest example of city leaders' decade long decimation of local public health services.  The situation is so dire that local public health, with its long term focus, suffers from memory loss.

In response to my request for data back to 2003, city leaders stated:

"By law we are only required to keep three years worth of statistics. We cannot answer for things prior to that time period nor could I or anyone in this department even hazard an estimate (of the historical percent of immunizations used for flu shots)."--Sandra Villareal, Health Services Director

"The data is unavailable beyond three years. We follow state law."--Anthony Wilson, Public Information Officer 

Since when did a legal minimum become the offered maximum?  Public health information reduced to a three year data window, that's surprising San Angelo and a sad state of affairs. 

Update 2-17-14:  The city gave 500 flu shots to employees through the City's Wellness Program, as reported by SACMC at the January 7, 2014 meeting.

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