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Swine flu clinics cost $194,000

It cost the Niagara County Health Department at least $194,000 to put on a series of swine flu clinics this winter, not counting the vaccine and syringes.

Deputy Public Health Director Victoria Pearson told the Board of Health on Thursday that the county has received $14,000 in state reimbursements so far and has put in a claim for the remaining $180,000 in expenses.

She said most of the tab was for employee overtime, although there were also costs for everything from transporting and storing equipment to providing food for the dispensing sites.

She said the reimbursement is not in question. "They gave us a dollar amount up front and said we could spent it," she said.

Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said the department administered nearly 17,000 flu shots, mostly at school-based clinics that began in November at Starpoint Central and finished last week at Wilson Central.

Now, the Health Department is looking for places to use up the vaccine it received from the federal and state governments.

Supervising Public Health Nurse Laurie Schoenfelt said an open flu shot clinic will be held April 9 at Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls. "We will vaccinate anyone who comes into the casino, even Canadians," she said.

A flu clinic also will be held Monday in the County Jail for the inmates.

"We want to maximize use of that vaccine while it's viable," said Elaine Roman, public health planning and information officer.

Some of the vaccine will reach its expiration date in about a month, she said.

"We have vaccine that has already run out. We had vaccine that wasn't the potency we thought, so we've had recalls," Stapleton told the board.

The largest clinic was held Jan. 14 at Gratwick Hose Company in North Tonawanda, where people lined up an hour before the doors opened. The Health Department administered 2,300 immunizations that day.

Stapleton said demand remained strong at the Lewiston-Porter clinic March 11. More than 600 shots were administered.

"We all know March is when the [flu] season usually peaks, but this is not a typical season. It never really went away [last year]. If you think back, the H1N1 flu started in April," Stapleton said.

Appointments for individual flu shots still can be made by calling 278-1903. Those shots are given in the Trott Access Center, 1001 11th St., Niagara Falls.

Stapleton said making the shots free was a key in the clinics' success. "There are [people] who wouldn't have been served if we didn't have this. Not everyone can afford to go to a pharmacy and pay $20," he said.

Board of Health member John Gotowko of North Tonawanda said, "People think it was free, but it was paid for by the federal government through our tax dollars."

"People saw their tax dollars at work," Stapleton said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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