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Local officials don't know how much flu-fighting federal funds they'll receive
Jenny Reed, LPN, packaged together boxes of expired influenza vaccine to be shipped back to the state warehouse Monday afternoon at the Hall County Health Department. Georgia is eligible for $10.8 million from the federal government to combat swine flu and prevent future outbreaks.

Extra funding to prepare for the upcoming flu season would be welcome, but local officials say they are not making any plans just yet.

Georgia is eligible for $10.8 million to help prepare for the 2009 novel H1N1 flu virus and the fall flu season.

The grant, funded by the recent supplemental appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed into law June 24 by President Barack Obama, was announced Friday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

A total of $260 million in Public Health Emergency Response Grants and $90 million in Hospital Preparedness Grants will be distributed nationwide.

Georgia will get $8,010,341 for emergency response, which goes toward things such as vaccination campaigns, reducing exposure and investigations into outbreaks.

Another $2,768,199 can be used to ensure that hospitals are ready for future outbreaks.

Dr. David Westfall, District 2 Public Health director, said it is too soon to tell how much money Hall County could receive from
the grant.

"We really don’t have any idea of how much money might be coming locally or to our district," Westfall said. "There are still lots and lots of unknowns and uncertainties. It has not been discussed on a local level or a state level."

Westfall said though it hasn’t been confirmed, any additional funding would be appreciated.

"With the underfunding that public health has had overall and all of the funding cuts we’ve had, we’re always glad to get any additional funding that will help us do our job better," Westfall said. "It would certainly be nice to have that, but our planning is not going to be dependent."

Westfall said he hopes the attention the H1N1 virus has gotten will remind people of the importance of being prepared against all
flu viruses.

"We every fall encourage everyone to get flu vaccine, practice proper cough and sneeze hygiene, stay home if they’re sick — all of those sorts of things are the same things we’re saying about the novel H1N1 flu," Westfall said. "If anything, maybe this will serve as a reminder to folks that seasonal flu each year is something people need to take more seriously anyway."

Westfall said between 36,000 and 37,000 deaths are associated with seasonal flu viruses annually in the U.S.

Vaccination is one of the easiest and most available ways to prevent flu viruses.

"We always end up with vaccine left over," Westfall said.

Kevin Matson, safety and emergency preparedness manager for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said the grant money likely would not have much of an impact on the hospital’s preparedness efforts.

"We already take a commitment here to be prepared for a pandemic," Matson said. "In a basic sense, the more money we receive, the more we’re going to be able to do, however we are still funding initiatives internally. We don’t just rely on grants."

Matson said any additional funding the hospital receives likely would go toward purchasing supplies such as respirators, surgical masks, gloves and gowns — "things that protect the employee but also help protect the spread."

Realistically, Matson said the hospital only would be looking at receiving $10,000 to $15,000.

Though it’s not enough to support a full pandemic preparedness plan, he said every little bit counts.

"It’s always better to have the support of legislation to support these initiatives," Matson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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