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Minnesotans Should Be Persistent In Getting Flu Shots

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Minnesotans seeking seasonal flu shots who find their health care provider is temporarily out of vaccine should not be discouraged, state health officials say, but should keep checking with their provider to see when more will be available. Adequate supplies of seasonal flu vaccine are expected in the state, but some providers have already used up their initial orders while others have not yet received theirs.

The problem may actually be a good sign, said Kristen Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease, Epidemiology and Control Division for the Minnesota Department of Health. "So many Minnesotans have been responding to our calls to get vaccinated early for seasonal influenza this year that the supply in the pipeline hasn't been able to keep up with the demand," Ehresmann said. "But more vaccine is on the way, so keep checking back with your provider to find out when they will have it."

Vaccination for seasonal influenza is as important as ever this year, health officials say, because both the regular flu viruses and the novel H1N1 influenza virus are expected to be circulating at the same time this fall and winter.

"Getting the seasonal flu shot as it becomes available is an important step in protecting yourself from the influenza season that we anticipate in Minnesota," Ehresmann said.

Full protection from influenza this year may require at least two vaccinations for most people: one for seasonal (regular) flu and one for novel H1N1, so it's not too early to start thinking about when and where you will get your seasonal flu shot. Children under 9 may require two doses of seasonal vaccine and are also in the recommended group to receive 2009 H1N1 vaccine.

Some health care and vaccination providers have already received some of their orders for seasonal flu vaccine, and they are being encouraged to offer the flu shots to patients as soon as they have it. However, health officials say flu shots can be given at almost any time during the flu season. Seasonal influenza usually arrives in Minnesota in December or January.

Seasonal flu shots are typically administered from October through January or February, with the bulk given in November. However, this year is different. Vaccine manufacturers and providers have attempted to make seasonal flu vaccine available earlier than usual so that when vaccine for the novel H1N1 virus arrives, now expected to be by mid-October, the public and the health care system can focus on getting the H1N1 vaccinations.

It now appears that some providers will receive their orders for seasonal flu vaccine about the same time they receive their first shipments of H1N1 vaccine. While the results of clinical trials are pending, all indications are that it will be safe to give both shots at the same time. This might be an opportunity for some providers to give seasonal flu shots to people who only thought about coming in for an H1N1 shot.

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In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated for seasonal influenza. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for high risk persons. People who should get vaccinated for seasonal flu each year are:

* Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday.
* Pregnant women.
* People 50 years of age and older.
* People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions.
* People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
* People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:

o Health care workers.

o Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu.

o Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated).

With novel H1N1, somewhat different groups of people are at greater risk of severe illness or of spreading illness to vulnerable people. Because the first supplies of H1N1 vaccine may be limited, state and federal health officials have recommended that these groups receive the 2009 H1N1 vaccine when it first becomes available:

* Pregnant women.
* People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age.
* Health care and emergency medical services personnel.
* People between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old.
* People 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Eventually, health officials expect that there will be enough H1N1 vaccine – and seasonal vaccine – available for anyone who wants to be vaccinated.

While vaccination will be the best protection against influenza, until more people are vaccinated it will be important for everyone to continue the basic protection and prevention measures: Stay home if you are ill; cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or with your sleeve, not with your hands;; wash your hands thoroughly and frequently; and stay healthy by getting plenty of rest, eating healthy food and exercising.