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Flu vaccine clinics to start Monday in schools

WILLMAR -- Children ages 5 to 9 will begin receiving the H1N1 novel influenza vaccine at mass vaccination clinics that start Monday in Kandiyohi County.

The county's first shipments of vaccine arrived this past week, said Ann Stehn, director of Kandiyohi County Public Health.

The initial supply is limited but more should be arriving shortly, she said. "We anticipate at some point in the coming week that will open up."

In the meantime, local health officials are following recommendations by the Minnesota Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to target the vaccine to those who need it the most.

The priority groups include pregnant women, all children ages 6 months to 4 years, children ages 5 to 18 who have chronic health conditions such as asthma or diabetes, parents or caregivers of infants younger than 6 months, and health care workers who provide direct care to sick patients.

Local clinics have already been administering the vaccine to people in these categories who are at highest risk of severe illness or flu-related complications.

"We use our vaccine as soon as we get it in," said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center at Affiliated Community Medical Centers. "We have been reaching out to all of our pregnant women and to our children who are 6 months to 9 years of age. Take advantage and give us a call, because we do have vaccine."

Health officials are especially encouraging vaccination for parents and caregivers of infants younger than six months, a practice known as cocooning.

Infants this young cannot be vaccinated yet for influenza, DeBruycker said. "They are very much at risk for H1N1, so we want to protect them and their caregivers."

Since there's not enough vaccine yet for all school-aged children, the first mass vaccination clinics by Kandiyohi County Public Health are targeting the youngest -- children ages 5 to 9. Notices were sent home with youngsters last week. The vaccination clinics, which run from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday within all the school districts in Kandiyohi County, are voluntary for children whose parents have signed a consent form.

"That's the group they wanted us to start with," Stehn said. "We will be able to get some done at that time. ... We're hoping to have a good turnout, but we also hope there will be more vaccine in the future."

Children in this age group will need a booster H1N1 vaccine in approximately four weeks, she noted. "They'll get instructions on that."

As more vaccine arrives, it will eventually become available to more people, including teens and young adults up to age 24, and adults ages 25 to 64 who have chronic medical conditions. Because the H1N1 novel influenza virus, commonly called swine flu, has been hitting young people the hardest, healthy adults and older people over the age of 65 are in the lowest-risk group for receiving the H1N1 vaccine.

Although the vaccine has been slow to arrive from the manufacturer, there's no indication there'll be a shortage, Stehn said.

Her advice to the public: "Do not be discouraged. ... If there's someone who's interested in the vaccine, we would really encourage them to get it."

What if you think you've already had the H1N1 virus? Many viruses can produce symptoms similar to influenza, so unless your illness has been culture-confirmed at the Minnesota Department of Health laboratory as H1N1, you should still consider getting vaccinated, Stehn said.

Although the rate of influenza-like illness has declined across Minnesota in the past couple of weeks, health officials remain concerned there could be yet another wave of H1N1 later this winter or next spring.

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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