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Clinics say record number of flu shots likely

WILLMAR -- Local medical providers plan on giving more flu shots this fall than ever before.

The influenza vaccine supply is at an all-time high at Family Practice Medical Center and Affiliated Community Medical Centers, and both clinics expect to use all of it before the flu season is over.

Walk-in flu shot clinics started this week at the two medical centers. Cub Foods also began offering the flu vaccine at a series of scheduled clinics at its pharmacy in October and November.

The annual vaccine is recommended for anyone over age 50, anyone with chronic health issues, such as diabetes or lung disease, that put them at higher risk of complications from influenza, and women who will be pregnant during flu season.

This year, for the first time, the vaccine also is recommended for children and teens from age 6 months to 18 years.

Health care workers and household contacts are urged as well to get vaccinated, both to protect themselves and to avoid spreading the influenza virus to those who might be more vulnerable.

In short, this means just about everyone, said Stacey Zondervan, director of patient services at Family Practice Medical Center.

"The categories are really so broad, I think the majority of us could find a category we fit into," she said. "I think everyone wants to prevent getting influenza."

Nationally, manufacturers have produced a record number this fall of flu vaccine doses. The vaccine is formulated to protect against three different strains of influenza virus.

Early predictions are that it'll be a better match this year to the flu strains most likely to be circulating this winter. Most years, the vaccine offers 70 to 90 percent protection, but last year's vaccine formula proved to be only about 40 percent effective.

Local medical providers are especially pushing vaccination for children and teens, who not only can get sick but also frequently spread the flu to family, friends and classmates.

"There's been a real focus on trying to get kids vaccinated," said Jo DeBruycker of the Health Learning Center at Affiliated. "They're in close, crowded conditions, in school, in day care, and they tend to bring it home."

The introduction of FluMist, an intranasal spray approved for use among healthy individuals between the ages of 2 and 49, has made it much easier for children to be vaccinated, she said.

"We've been hearing from our pediatricians that they have been really happy with another option," she said.

Affiliated ordered nearly 30,000 doses of flu vaccine this year that'll be distributed among nine clinics in the regional multi-specialty health group. Family Practice Medical Center also boosted the number of its flu vaccine doses this year to 3,000.

"We're just trying to give out as many as we can. The goal is to get people in and get them immunized," Zondervan said.

Don't forget health care workers either.

In recent years there's been a growing emphasis on vaccinating this group -- not only to reduce their chances of getting sick but also to reduce the likelihood they might spread the flu virus to their patients. There's even been some national discussion about making flu shots mandatory for health care workers.

People often are most infectious in the early stages of flu, said Barb Piasecki, who oversees infection control at Rice Memorial Hospital.

"That may be when they're exposing patients and their fellow workers," she said.

Last year 84 percent of the hospital's employees received a flu shot, and Piasecki is hoping to reach 90 percent this year.

DeBruycker said it's a message that seems to be hitting home.

"I think providers really understand the risk of getting sick," she said. "They're protecting not just themselves but the patients they serve."