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Minnesota health officials say plenty of vaccine remains for those who have yet to get a shot this year

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WILLMAR -- There's good news and good news.

It's not too late to get a flu shot, and there's more than enough vaccine to go around.

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State health officials are hosting a last-ditch push this week to encourage people to get vaccinated for the upcoming influenza season.

No influenza cases have been confirmed yet in Minnesota this winter, but it's just a matter of time, officials say.

"You know there will be flu," said Jo DeBruycker of the Health Learning Center at Affiliated Community Medical Centers.

The Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Coalition for Adult Immunization sponsor their "Ban the Bug" campaign to remind Minnesotans to get immunized while there's still time.

They're joined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is hosting its own National Influenza Immunization Week this week.

Why it's important: Between 5 percent and 20 percent of the American population gets sick with influenza each winter. The respiratory virus is responsible for up to 200,000 hospitalizations and as many as 36,000 deaths every season.

Very young children, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions are most at risk of becoming severely ill from flu or developing flu-related complications such as pneumonia.

While annual vaccination isn't 100 percent effective at preventing flu, it generally offers a high level of protection against flu viruses. Someone who gets a flu shot and gets sick with flu anyway also tends to have a more mild case of the illness.

Local health care providers are still offering flu vaccinations to their patients on a walk-in basis.

"If people have been meaning to get it done, they still have the opportunity," DeBruycker said.

It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to reach its maximum effect, so getting vaccinated now will provide good protection in time for the busy holiday season, she said.

"You're around more people -- your family gatherings, the holiday parties and out shopping. You increase your exposure," she said.

Affiliated has already used up all its FluMist, an inhaled form of the vaccine that's targeted to healthy individuals ages 2 to 49, but still has plenty of injectable vaccine left -- including vaccine that's thimerosol-free, DeBruycker said.

Besides the traditional risk groups of the elderly and the chronically ill, flu shots are also now recommended to children from 6 months to 18 years old, to reduce the spread of flu. Vaccination is urged as well for caregivers and for health care professionals, as well as for anyone else who doesn't want to get the flu this winter.

Flu season in Minnesota peaks anywhere from January to April, so getting vaccinated now will offer several months of protection, the state Health Department said.

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