The public's long wait for the swine flu vaccine is over. Vaccines are now widely available at retail clinics and through public health departments in Tampa Bay.
If you've been waiting for the vaccine, the good news is you're likely to have little trouble finding it. But you may have to pay for the convenience of being immunized at a neighborhood drugstore, walk-in clinic or supermarket.
Beginning today, the H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available at CVS MinuteClinic locations throughout the region. It is also being offered at many Walgreens Take Care Clinics and some pharmacies in Hillsborough. Vaccines also can be found at other retail clinics.
But many charge a fee to administer the vaccine, which itself is free. CVS is charging $15. At Walgreens, the cost is $18.
While health insurance plans often cover the expense, the free option is your county health department.
The H1N1 vaccine is available at no charge at health department clinics in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Additional weekend clinics are planned in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Brooksville, Dade City and Port Richey. (See box for details.)
Worried about fitting a swine flu shot into your holiday shopping? The Pasco health department will be offering the vaccine all day Saturday at Gulf View Square Mall in Port Richey.
The Pinellas health department has seen significant pent-up demand since it lifted restrictions this week that had limited swine flu vaccines to high priority groups, such as children and pregnant women.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the health department provided about 1,300 vaccinations. Seniors, in particular, are lining up to receive it.
"A lot of them are thinking ahead to the holidays for family gatherings," said Maggie Hall, spokeswoman for the Pinellas health department. "They don't want to get sick. They're just really coming out."
It's been quieter at the Hillsborough health department clinics, which also offer the vaccines for free. Hillsborough continues to offer school-based immunization clinics for students. Hillsborough recently allocated more than 16,000 doses to a wide range of retail clinics.
"It's a good time to get it," spokesman Steve Huard said. "The thing to remember is the only way that we're going to prevent a second wave of flu in our community is making sure (people) are getting that vaccine."
At Walgreens and CVS, availability has been expanding daily. A number of H1N1 clinics are planned next week at Walgreens sites in Hillsborough. Check the company Web sites, or call ahead, to see where the vaccine is available.
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit www.tampabay.com/health.