WILKES-BARRE – With flu season approaching, hundreds of people took advantage of the city's first free flu shot clinic on Thursday to make sure they're immunized against the potentially deadly virus.
One by one city residents signed some forms, stepped into a mobile clinic, rolled up their sleeves and walked out with much better odds they will not be one of thousands annually who come down with the flu. In total, the city vaccinated 275 residents on Thursday.
Following last year's mild flu season, some health officials are preparing for what could be a worse than normal season over the next seven months.
"When you have one mild flu season, the next season tends to be considerably worse," said Holli Senior, a state Department of Health spokeswoman.
Ted Kross, the director of the city's health department, said 11 people died statewide during the 2011-12 flu season from the flu, including one in Luzerne County, and there were 2,450 reported cases. And that was in a mild year.
In 2010-11, there were 89 deaths and 19,208 reported cases statewide. Senior noted those numbers do not accurately reflect the true numbers because not everyone with the flu seeks treatment.
Peak flu season arrives in February but it begins in October and lasts through April, Senior said, making September and October prime times to get vaccinated. And most people are urged to get a flu shot.
"Anyone six months and older should be vaccinated," Senior said.
While in recent seasons, the flu vaccine arrived late, was in short supply and caused long lines when clinics were set up, things don't appear to be on track this year.
Senior said the first batches arrived from the vaccine makers earlier than usual and there are no indications there will be any shortages.
Kross said the city pays $10 per dose and ordered 1,900 doses this year. He said some years the entire allotment is used, other times, like last year, there were extras so the doses were given to those in neighboring municipalities in need.
The turnout at the first clinic, held in conjunction with the weekly Farmers Market, was high, Drew McLaughlin, a spokesman with the mayor's office, said.
Among those getting their free flu shots was Bob Lawton, a 69-year-old East End resident who attends a city clinic annually to get his vaccine.
"Why not? It's free," Lawton noted. "You do it for your health."
He said he's been getting the flu shot annually as far back as he can remember and can't recall getting the flu any of those years.
Kross, with the city health department, said the flu shot's effectiveness is 79-86 percent.
He said seniors are by far the population that should do whatever it can to get vaccinated.
He said 64 percent of the flu-related deaths in recent years occur in those age 65 and older.
The Wilkes-Barre City Health Department will hold free flu vaccination clinics at the Kirby Health Center, 71 N. Franklin St., on the following dates and times in October:
• The 12th from 5-8 p.m. This will be a drive-through clinic.
• The 13th, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. This will be a drive-through clinic.
• The 18th, from 3-7 p.m.
• The 22nd, from 1-4 p.m.
• The 26th, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
• The 29th, from 3-7 p.m.
The vaccinations are for city residents with proof of residency only.