Free flu vaccines; state drops its usual administrative fee

Suzanna Caldwell
With flu season on the rise, state officials are encouraging Alaskans to vaccinate against the flu with free immunizations. Loren Holmes photo

Despite a slow start to the flu season, the state of Alaska has seen a surge in cases of the virus over the last few weeks. With that, comes the campaign to get vaccinated.

On Friday, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced it would drop its administrative fee for the flu vaccine at all state public health centers through the end of the year in an effort to encourage more Alaskans to be immunized.

This week, a woman died at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage after showing flu-like symptoms. An in-depth analysis Thursday from the Alaska State Virology Laboratory confirmed that the woman did not have influenza.

Statewide, 22 cases of influenza have been diagnosed in pockets across the state. Bethel, Juneau, Kenai and Anchorage hospitals have all seen cases of the flu, though not one has been reported in Interior Alaska or the Mat-Su region, just north of Alaska's largest city. The predominant strain in Alaska this year appears to be H1N1, the 2009 strain better known as “swine flu” that was responsible for a worldwide pandemic.

Last season, 39.7 percent of all Alaskans received flu vaccines, one of the lowest rates in the country according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu vaccines, which include immunity from H1N1, have always been available for free at statewide clinics for qualified individuals. However, there was always a $28 administrative fee that patients had to pay. With the fee now waived, the vaccine will be free for certain people:

•  Children under age 3
•  People who do not have health insurance,
•  Who have health insurance that doesn’t cover vaccines,
•  Who have insurance but haven't met their deductible for vaccination coverage, or
•  Who have nowhere else to go in the community to receive the vaccine.

The vaccine is available in both injectable and nasal spray versions. For a list of all public health centers, see the state website.

There also will be flu shots available Saturday in Bethel at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center Health Fair from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Multiple cases of flu have been confirmed in the region and health officials are strongly encouraging residents to vaccinate.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @suzannacaldwell