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Providers say flu vaccine in Willmar, Minn. area, is running short

WILLMAR -- Local health providers still have influenza vaccine available -- but better hurry because there's not much left.

"If you're thinking about it, take advantage," advised Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Lear-ning Center at Aff-iliated Community Medical Centers.

The U.S. Dep-artment of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have designated this as National Influenza Vaccination Week.

It's a final push for people to get their flu shots before the holiday season, when busy social calendars often result in germs being swapped more than usual.

The annual vaccine is recommended for everyone older than 6 months.

Local providers have doled out thousands of doses of flu vaccine since late August and are nearing the end of their supplies.

ACMC will likely use up all its flu vaccine within the next week, DeBruycker said. The regional multispecialty health network ordered 35,000 doses this year for its 11 clinics in southwestern Minnesota.

Family Practice Medical Center doesn't have much vaccine left either. "We ordered a little bit more this year than last year," said Stacey Zondervan, patient services supervisor. "I anticipate that we'll run out. That's our goal each year -- to use it all."

The two medical clinics offer the vaccine to their established patients. Local pharmacies also have flu vaccine available.

Because it can take up to two weeks for full immunization to develop, health officials say it's especially important to get vaccinated now, before the start of the holidays.

Influenza is already circulating, although at low levels. ACMC, which conducts influenza surveillance for the Minnesota Department of Health, recorded a handful of confirmed cases in Marshall about six weeks ago and one in Willmar a month ago, DeBruycker said.

Family Practice Medical Center also has had a couple of confirmed cases, Zondervan said. Since flu season historically peaks in January or February, it's probably only a matter of time before the number of cases begins to rise, she noted. "More often than not, you're seeing it after the holiday season."

The shots are especially urged for people at higher risk of severe illness and flu-related complications. These include young children, adults 65 and older, pregnant women and anyone with a chronic condition such as diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease or weakened immune system.

In recent years health officials also have begun emphasizing the importance of vaccinations for those considered more likely to spread the flu virus to individuals who are vulnerable -- relatives or caregivers of someone in one of the high-risk categories, for instance, or caregivers of infants who are younger than 6 months and too young to receive the flu vaccine.

There's also been a stronger push to vaccinate children, whom research has found to be among the primary carriers of influenza within a community.

The awareness seems to be catching on, DeBruycker said. "People are realizing more and more their role within the family and within the community of not being a spreader. People are getting that better. All of us have a responsibility for ourselves but for other people too."

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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