Neighborhood Walgreen's not offering the swine flu (H1N1) shot? Never fear. The much-discussed national vaccine shortage is a reality ... sort of. (The government says it's more of a logistical problem than an actual shortage at this stage.) But it doesn't necessarily rule you or your kids out of the running for a dose.
First, though, are you eligible? As of right now, the vaccine is on offer to folks considered high-risk for H1N1
: pregnant women, those 6 months old through 24 years, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months old, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, and people 25 through 64 years old with certain illnesses.
Important Thing 1:
People aged 65 and older are not
included in the high-risk group unless they qualify via one of the other risk categories. Babies under 6 months of age are too young to receive the vaccine.
Important Thing 2:
Children under nine years old must get a repeat dose four weeks after the first one.
Important Thing 3:
The swine flu (H1N1) vaccine is considered safe. If in doubt, read more at WebMD
or Consumer Reports
Important Thing 4:
The H1N1 vaccine is not the same thing as the regular seasonal flu vaccine. One does not provide immunity from the other.
So you've determined your eligibility? Okay, now it's time to go searching. Your best bet is the wonderful Flu.gov website
. Here you'll find state-by-state clinic information as well as flu FAQs. Note that this government site links you to state websites, some of which are more helpful than others. (Texas: please go back to the drawing board.)
Still confused? Call your primary care physician's office.
Chances are his/her staff have fielded so many flu-related calls by now you can get instant answers. Find out whether or not they can offer the vaccine in-house and, if not, where else you might go.
No luck? Call your local county health department next.
Chances are, vaccines are being offered there right now for free to high-risk members of the population. Just find out the details before you go, as not all health departments are offering the shots all-day-every-day.
If you work for the government or a large private employer, call your benefits office
. Find out if there'll be a workplace-wide drive to provide swine flu shots to eligible employees
. The advantage: it might be free and it may save you a time-consuming trip to the health department or doctor's office.
The H1N1 shot should be easier to find as winter progresses. Who knows? In a few weeks supermarkets and drug stores may be offering it along with the seasonal flu vaccine.