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Demand for H1N1 shot is on the rise at local clinics, officials say

WILLMAR -- On Wednesday, the first day the H1N1 novel influenza vaccine became available to the general public, 200 people were on the flu-shot appointment list at Affiliated Community Medical Centers in Willmar. "The response has been great," said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center at ACMC.

Until now, the vaccine had been limited to those in high-risk groups -- primarily children, teens and young adults, pregnant women, family members and caregivers of infants too young to be immunized against flu, and people with chronic health conditions.

This week, however, the Minnesota Department of Health decided there was enough H1N1 vaccine to offer it to anyone who wants it.

It's a move for which many people have been waiting, DeBruycker said.

"They were greatly appreciative of this," she said. "Their patience is finally rewarded."

Patients have been asking for the vaccine, said Stacey Zondervan, director of patient services at Family Practice Medical Center.

"Certainly now that it's opened up to all populations, that was a good thing," she said. "There have been people who are not in target populations that are requesting it."

The H1N1 vaccine has been slow to arrive, prompting health officials to offer it first to those deemed most at risk of becoming severely ill with flu. In recent weeks, however, the supply has eased. More shipments are expected to come within the next few weeks.

Local medical clinics and Kandiyohi County Public Health have already given hundreds of doses to individuals in the priority groups.

As of last week, ACMC had administered more than 15,000 H1N1 vaccinations and more than 30,000 seasonal flu vaccinations at its 11 regional sites.

Local providers were not affected by a recall, announced earlier this week, of flu vaccine doses that had lost some of their potency. Nationwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recalled 800,000 doses, a limited number of which were shipped to Minnesota.

Neither Family Practice Medical Center nor Kandiyohi County Public Health received any of the recalled pre-filled syringes, officials said. DeBruycker said ACMC received a small amount but only two of those doses reached patients.

Health officials have said the recalled vaccine is still safe and effective.

With the holidays approaching, it has been especially timely to make the vaccine available, DeBruycker said.

"I'm glad we can vaccinate before families get together and people start traveling," she said. "It's a good idea for people to take care of it before the holidays."

At Kandiyohi County Public Health, the focus has been on getting the H1N1 vaccine to school-aged children, said Chery Johnson.

"We are finishing up the target groups. That's what we are still working on," she said.

One of health officials' concerns: that the delays earlier this fall in getting the H1N1 vaccine will cause many people to skip it altogether.

Although H1N1 activity in Minnesota has dropped significantly, some cases are still being reported and there's a chance there could be another wave of illness by spring. The Minnesota Department of Health this week confirmed six more deaths from the H1N1 virus, bringing the total to 50 since May.

"It would really be nice to have more people vaccinated so we wouldn't see as much of an impact," Johnson said. "If people have an opportunity, I would certainly recommend they get the vaccine. There will be opportunities for them to get it."

"I would say that anybody that wants to reduce their risk should get it," Zondervan agreed. "I would encourage them to come in."

The CDC estimates that about one in six Americans has already been sick with H1N1. Unless their illness was culture-confirmed, however, people shouldn't skip the vaccine on the assumption that they no longer need it, Zondervan said.

"You can only be assured you have had H1N1 if you have had a laboratory-confirmed case. I think it's very important that people realize that just because you had the symptoms, it doesn't mean you had it," she 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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