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Clinics will soon begin offering flu shots. AP Photo

Local medical providers are getting prepared to offer 2010-11 version of the influenza vaccine to patients

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Look for flu shots to start becoming available this month.

Local medical providers are gearing up to offer the 2010-11 version of the annual influenza vaccine to their patients.

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Family Practice Medical Center has already received its first shipment of vaccine, and more will be arriving in the weeks ahead, said Stacey Zondervan, director of patient services.

"We've started giving it at appointments," she said this week. "Well over half of the people offered vaccine at appointments have been taking it."

At Affiliated Community Medical Centers, flu vaccine is expected to start arriving by mid-September, said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center.

Once the initial supply is here, phone lines will be set up at each of the sites in the ACMC multispecialty network so that patients can call and schedule appointments for their flu shot, she said.

The vaccine also will be offered to patients who come in for routine ap-pointments, she said.

The good news: No shortages or delays in the vaccine supply are predicted this year.

"We will be off and running and we don't anticipate any glitches," DeBruycker said. "The good thing is it's ahead of the game and not later."

More good news: Unlike last year, when a second vaccine had to be provided to immunize for the H1N1 novel influenza virus, this year's version of the flu vaccine is the only one needed. The 2010-11 formula protects against three types of influenza viruses: two A strains, including the H1N1 virus, and a B strain.

September might sound early to start immunizing against a virus that may not show up until December or January. Studies have found, however, that the annual flu vaccine remains effective for months and that it's OK to give it early in fall.

It's even an advantage because it allows more time for people to get vaccinated, Zondervan said. "If we can expand that window of time when we can give it, that helps."

Both clinics are already fielding questions about this year's flu vaccine. The most common question: Will I need a separate shot again for the H1N1 virus? (The answer is no.)

Zondervan also has heard queries about how old a child should be before getting a flu shot. Children need to be at least six months old -- and depending on their vaccination history, children up to age 8 might need two initial flu shots, she said. "We have to go through screening criteria to see if they need one shot or two."

ACMC had hoped to start making its flu vaccine available in August, in time for school and sports physicals, but manufacturers' shipments were held up for a couple of weeks after the prefilled vaccine syringes were found to include caps containing latex, to which some people can be allergic. The Food and Drug Administration has asked to have the syringes relabeled. Three of the major flu vaccine manufacturers were affected, resulting in a minor delay in shipping the vaccine.

No similar issues have been reported with FluMist, the inhaled version of the flu vaccine.

ACMC has already received some FluMist and has set some of it aside for people who will be traveling and need to be vaccinated. Most of it, however, will be offered at the same time the injectable vaccine arrives "so we can offer choice to people," DeBruycker said.

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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