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Last-minute push begins for influenza vaccinations

WILLMAR -- Health officials are launching a last-minute push this week for influenza vaccinations.

If you haven't already had a flu shot, now is the time, say local health providers.

"Anything we can do to reduce our likelihood of influenza is something we should all do," said Stacey Zondervan, director of patient services at Family Practice Medical Center.

This week a coalition of organizations that includes the Minnesota Department of Health is hosting the annual "Ban the Bug" campaign, reminding the public to get a flu shot if they haven't already done so. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also is observing National Influenza Vaccination Week this week.

This year's version of the flu vaccine has been available since August, and the supply is plentiful.

But people often procrastinate, said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center at Affiliated Community Medical Centers.

"People keep saying, 'I'm going to get this done' and they haven't quite gotten to it," she said. "It's not on their radar."

Health officials said getting vaccinated now can help reduce the chances of spreading the flu virus during the holidays, when people are more likely to travel and visit. It takes about two weeks for full vaccine protection to develop.

Getting sick at this time of the year is "the last thing you want," DeBruycker said. "You want to stay healthy but you also have to think about all the people you're going to come into contact with during the holiday season. This is not the gift you want to give them."

Flu activity isn't widespread yet in Minnesota. Last week, though, both type A and type B influenza were confirmed in a couple of patients at ACMC, DeBruycker said.

"It tells us that this is the beginning," she said. "We're seeing it circulating."

Annual flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone six months and older, unless they cannot receive a flu shot for medical reasons.

Children are especially a priority, Zondervan said.

Depending on their vaccination history, some children in the six-months to 8-years age bracket will need a booster immunization for flu, she said. "Getting them in for that booster shot is important."

Parents who aren't sure should ask their health provider, she said.

Other priority groups for getting a flu shot are pregnant women, seniors, individuals with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes, and health care workers.

Local providers are giving more flu shots this year than ever before. Pharmacies such as Walgreen and Cub also offer the vaccine.

Even compared to five years ago, there has been "a dramatic increase" in the number of Family Practice Medical Center patients receiving it, Zondervan said. "People are really coming out and getting their flu shots."

Both the local medical clinics will probably go through their entire flu vaccine supply within the next several weeks.

"Our goal is to use it all up," DeBruycker said.

Anne Polta

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

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