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Priority groups expanded for H1N1 shot

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Vaccine availability for H1N1 novel influenza is being expanded to all health priority groups, the Minnesota Department of Health announced Tuesday.

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The supply is still trickling in and it will take time to get the vaccine distributed to health providers and public health agencies across the state, officials said.

Be persistent, counseled Kris Ehresmann, director of the infectious disease division at the state Health Department.

"It's still very important that people pursue vaccination. If they are unable to receive vaccine right away, we would encourage them to be patient," she said.

State health officials announced Tuesday that seven more influenza-related deaths have been reported across Minnesota.

Six were confirmed to be from the H1N1 influenza virus.

The seventh was non-specified, according to Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist.

This brings to 32 the number of Minnesotans who have died from swine flu.

The latest deaths were all among people younger than age 65 and included two adolescents, Lynfield said.

"Six of the seven did have underlying conditions. It does serve as a reminder that influenza can be severe," she said.

The deaths were reported in Clearwater, Itasca, Hennepin, Kanabec and St. Louis counties.

For the fourth week in a row, influenza activity has lessened across the state, Lynfield said. This past week Minnesota was downgraded from widespread activity to regional activity. The number of flu-related hospitalizations and school outbreaks also has continued to decline.

State health officials were hopeful Tuesday that the H1N1 virus may be on the wane.

"I anticipate that we may well have another several weeks of activity, but I think it's fair to say we have peaked," Lynfield said.

Officials are cautioning, however, that there may be another wave of H1N1 later in the winter. Seasonal flu also will likely arrive soon, making it important for people to try to reduce their exposure as the holiday season approaches.

To date, the state has ordered nearly 1 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine. This won't be enough to immediately cover everyone who needs or wants the vaccine. But as delays in manufacturing and shipping begin to ease, state health officials predict the vaccine will become available in January to most people who want it.

Judging from phone calls to the state Health Department's influenza hotline, "people are still very interested in vaccination at this point," Ehresmann said.

"We're working hard to get vaccine out in as many places as we can," she said.

On Monday, Kandiyohi County Public Health offered its first mass vaccination clinic to school-aged children ages 5 to 9.

"We did have a decent turnout. We did not use all the vaccine that we had," said Ann Stehn, director of the public health agency.

Because the vaccine supply remains limited for now, no additional clinics for this age group are being scheduled, but this may change as more doses arrive, she said. "We are still hoping we will eventually have enough vaccine that we will be able to do more vaccination of school children."

Local medical clinics have been following state Health Department guidelines for offering the H1N1 vaccine to those with the highest priority.

Affiliated Community Medical Centers announced Tuesday that it will provide the vaccine to the expanded target groups. Flu-shot appointments can be made Monday through Friday by calling ACMC Benson, 843-2030; ACMC Granite Falls, 564-2511; ACMC Litchfield, 693-3233; ACMC Marshall, 507-532-9631; ACMC New London-Spicer, 354-2222; ACMC Redwood Falls, 507-697-6650; or ACMC Willmar, 231-6358.

ACMC also has some seasonal flu vaccine available for those who haven't yet received it.

The newly expanded groups:

- Pregnant women.

- Children, teens and young adults from 6 months to 24 years old, whether or not they have a health condition such as diabetes or asthma that puts them at higher risk.

- Parents and caregivers of infants less than 6 months old.

- Adults from 25 to 64 years old who have a chronic medical condition that increases their risk of severe illness or flu-related complications.

- Health care workers and emergency medical services personnel. This list covers an estimated 2.7 million Minnesotans.

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