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Paynesville Press - November 3, 2004

PAHCS starts giving limited supply of flu shots

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville Area Health Care System started giving flu shots to at-risk patients this week at its main clinic in Paynesville and at its satellite clinics.

PAHCS, which ordered flu vaccine from both suppliers, has received 1,000 doses. It has already vaccinated its nursing home residents, assisted living residents, and congregate housing residents.

Its remaining doses will be given to at-risk people, mainly senior citizens who suffer from a cardiac or pulminary condition. PAHCS is targeting seniors (age 65 and over) with asthma, chronic heart disease, active cancer, or another cardio/pulminary condition.

PAHCS has prioritized its patient list and is starting to administer the available flu vaccine this week.

Anyone who thinks they are at-risk for the flu and wanting to get the vaccine should call PAHCS at 320-243-3767 and ask to speak to their doctor's nurse to see if their condition warrants their being added to the priority list.

Last month, British officials closed a manufacturing plant in England owned by one of the United States' two flu vaccine suppliers, reducing the amount of vaccine available in America. PAHCS, having ordered from both companies, was fortunate to get 1,000 doses, said Dorothy Winkelman, director of clinics for PAHCS.

But 1,000 doses are not enough to offer the vaccine to the general public. PAHCS had planned to hold four walk-in flu clinics in October and November, but these have been postponed. PAHCS does not know if they will receive additional flu vaccines, said Winkelman. If it does, walk-in flu clinics could still be held.

PAHCS does have and can get more flu mists, the nasal spray vaccine. This can be given to people between the ages of five and 50 - not the highest at-risk people for the flu - but this flu mist is not covered by insurance and costs $55 per dose.

Average adults, said Winkelman, may get sick from the flu but should recover, which is why health officials have targeted at-risk people with the limited supply of flu vaccines.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, to protect yourself from the flu, even without receiving the vaccine, people can:

*Cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; *If without a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve;

*Clean your hands after you cough or sneeze with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner;

*And, if you get the flu, avoid exposing others by staying home from work or school.

Because prime flu season in Minnesota is December and January, PAHCS waited until the start of November to administer its current flu doses. The flu vaccine takes two weeks to provide maximum protection, and it decreases in effectiveness over time, explained Winkelman, so the November vaccination start should provide maximum protection.

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