SALEM - Flu vaccine provider VaxCare discontinued service to the Salem City Health Department this month due to low usage last flu season, but city health officials don't want to give up on giving flu shots just yet.
On Wednesday, health board members instructed city Health Commissioner Richard Setty to find a way to increase the numbers as close to the 100 doses required by the company as possible. They also advised him to find out what it will cost if they order 100 doses and don't administer that many.
"It's public health. Protecting the public is what we're all about. This is what we do," board member Judy Sicilia said.
The department administered a total of 46 seasonal flu vaccinations during the 2012-2013 season, with that number including 19 vaccinations administered to employees at city hall in January.
Large pharmacy chains have been offering flu shots since early August, with the Salem Area Visiting Nurse Association holding clinics this month and doctor's offices also offering flu shots to their patients. Many large employers have already made arrangements for their workers to get flu shots at their place of employment, with some through Salem Community Hospital.
Setty said he spoke to the VaxCare representative on Tuesday and was told if the health department could line up enough clinics to get to 100, he would take that information back to management and see if they'll change their mind. Setty said he had the department nurse call some employers in town about possibly having a clinic, but the response was not good.
"Frankly, it's not looking good at the moment," he said.
Sicilia said they could set up a clinic for city workers again, they could open up the offer to their family members, too. She also suggested approaching the senior citizen program at the Memorial Building. Suggestions were also made to check with the Banquet of Salem and the Salem Community Center about possible clinics.
"I think we should try," Sicilia said.
Setty explained that under the VaxCare program, the city didn't pay anything. The company billed people's insurances or Medicare and the health department received a $7.25 rebate for each shot administered. With self-pay of $25 for a flu shot, he said the health department received an even larger percentage.
"I feel especially with city employees, we need to establish that niche," Sicilia said, adding "I feel we need to be a presence."
Setty expressed concern about what it may cost if they fall short of the 100 doses administered. Board member Steve Faber also said they better find out what it will cost since they're already two or three months behind.
Mayor John Berlin, who serves as chairman of the board, asked Setty to check with the East Liverpool and Columbiana County health departments to see how they handle flu shots.
In a related matter, the board set the fees for flu shots, if they're able to participate, at $25 for the seasonal flu vaccine (trivalent), $30 for the quadrivalent (which includes four strains), $45 for the high-dose and $30 for the intra-nasal.
In other business, the board approved a resolution and a memorandum of understanding for the city of Salem, city of East Liverpool and Columbiana County health districts to work together for joint completion of the Centers for Disease Control National Public Health Performance Standards Local Assessment report.
Setty said county Health Commissioner Wes Vins submitted a grant application on behalf of all three entities for $81,320 to help cover some of the costs they'll incur to complete the report required for them to continue receiving state funding. The grant will cover $72,980 and the county agreed to cover the required in-kind contribution of $8,340.
The next health board meeting is set for 10 a.m. Oct. 23.