More people than ever can get a free swine flu vaccination in Pinellas and Hernando counties.
The Pinellas County Health Department will provide the vaccine to anyone who wants one starting today at its five centers, said Maggie Hall, a spokeswoman for the department.
The Hernando County Health Department on Sunday will offer its first free clinic for anyone up to age 64.
Now that more of the vaccine is available after an initial shortage, it makes sense to vaccinate as many people as possible, health officials say.
"The general public has been waiting, so this is a good chance now that we have a greater supply to offer it to the people who are motivated to get it," Hall said.
The initial pace of production and distribution of the vaccine had prompted health organizations throughout the country to dole out doses based on guidelines developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Until now, the vaccine has been offered only to high-risk populations, which include young people, pregnant women and health care workers.
In Hernando, those groups have had enough opportunities to get the vaccine to justify the offer to a broader segment of the community, said Nina Mattei, emergency planner for the Hernando Health Department. The department has distributed about 20,800 doses through doctors, walk-in clinics and at its own free clinics, Mattei said.
The Pasco County Health Department continues to put an emphasis on the higher-priority groups, but no one who seeks a vaccine will be turned away, spokeswoman Deanna Krautner said. The department now offers the vaccine at all six of its locations. A free clinic is set for 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Dade City office, 13941 15th St.
The Hillsborough Health Department is still focused on efforts to vaccinate students and other high-priority groups but won't deny anyone, either, said spokesman Steve Huard.
The Sunshine State is one of the few remaining southeastern states where H1N1 infections are still considered widespread, according to the latest report from the CDC. Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are reporting only regional H1N1 activity.
Federal health officials, however, caution that the number of cases may rise again with the holiday season, when more people congregate in homes, airports and shopping malls.
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.