Flu shots in ample supply
WILLMAR -- Local health providers have an ample supply of influenza vaccine on hand as they start administering flu shots this month. Family Practice Medical Center expects to give 2,300 doses of the vaccine over the next couple of months, said S...
WILLMAR -- Local health providers have an ample supply of influenza vaccine on hand as they start administering flu shots this month.
Family Practice Medical Center expects to give 2,300 doses of the vaccine over the next couple of months, said Stacey Zondervan, director of patient services.
"We continue to get shipments in from our suppliers. I don't anticipate that there will be shortages," she said this week. "People can rest assured there will be flu vaccine available."
Affiliated Community Medical Centers has received most of its flu vaccine already and has been offering flu shots since the beginning of October.
The regional multispecialty clinic expects to administer 20,000 doses of vaccine this year at its 10 sites, said spokesperson Jo DeBruycker.
It's a sharp change from the past two years, when manufacturing delays and a vaccine shortage forced providers to hold off on giving flu shots and to reserve the vaccine for those at highest risk.
This time around, there appears to be enough vaccine for anyone who wants a flu shot, DeBruycker said.
"We encourage high-risk people to get their flu shot, but we also say, 'If you want it, you can get one,'" she said.
Influenza accounts for an estimated 200,000 hospital stays and 36,000 deaths in the United States each year.
It's especially important to ensure that high-risk individuals get vaccinated each year, Zondervan said.
"Certainly over the last few years we've done a better job as a health care community in making people more aware of what those high-risk categories are," she said. "But I think there is still a percentage of high-risk people that choose not to receive an immunization."
Last year both Family Practice Medical Center and Affiliated used up all their doses of flu vaccine.
At Affiliated's main clinic in Willmar, demand has been high this fall for flu shots, DeBruycker said.
"We've gone through a lot of our vaccine already," she said. About 350 shots are being administered each day, she said.
Providers are using various tactics to make it easy for patients to receive a flu shot.
At both clinics, the shots are being given to patients on a walk-in basis; it's recommended that patients call ahead of time. Flu shots also are being offered to patients who come in for previously scheduled appointments.
Family Practice Medical Center hosted a large vaccination clinic for its patients on Monday. A second clinic will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at Evangelical Free Church, and more such clinics will be scheduled in November, Zondervan said.
"We try to offer it at convenient times. It allows people to come in and just receive their flu shot," she said.
Affiliated hasn't scheduled any mass vaccination clinics but instead is encouraging patients to come in on their own. A central location has been set up for giving flu shots each day.
The clinic used this approach a couple of years ago, when the vaccine was in short supply, and patients preferred it, DeBruycker said.
"They kept telling us, 'We like this so much better.' They can choose what fits them," she said. "People have been really happy with that. That's what we want -- we want to make it convenient."
Affiliated also has about 5,000 doses available of FluMist, an inhaled vaccine that's designed for healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49.
This year's flu vaccine has been formulated to protect against three strains -- B-Malaysia, A-Wisconsin and A-New Caledonia.
Is flu vaccine reaching those who need it the most? The numbers suggest that progress is being made.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 78.2 percent of Minnesotans over age 65 were vaccinated against the flu -- the highest rate in the U.S. for this age group.
Locally, vaccination rates also have been going up for health care providers, who are considered a high-risk group because they are both exposed to the flu virus and capable of transmitting the virus to their patients.
A survey at Affiliated two years ago found that 86 percent of the staff had a flu shot, compared to a national rate of 36 percent, DeBruycker said.
"It isn't just about you. It's about the people you care for," she said.
Family Practice Medical Center has seen the same thing.
"We have a high percentage of people that receive an annual flu shot," Zondervan said.