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Paynesville Press - December 8, 2004

Eligibility expanded for flu shots

By Michael Jacobson

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health announced that it had expanded the eligibility criteria for the distribution of flu vaccine, and the Paynesville Area Health Care System will honor these recommendations with their limited supply of vaccine.

Due to a limited supply this year, priority has been given to give the most at-risk people the flu vaccine. Now, the health department has expanded the qualifications for high-risk people who are now eligible to get a flu shot.

According to the health department, the flu vaccine is now available for people who fall into one of the following risk groups:

*All children ages six to 23 months

*All adults age 50 and older

*Any adult or child who has one of the following chronic medical conditions: heart disease, lung disease, metabolic disease (including diabetes and liver disease), Kidney disease, immunosuppression (weakened immune system), or hemoglobinopathies (blood disorders including anemias)

*Pregnant women

*Any child (6 months to 18 years) who takes aspirin on a regular basis *A resident of a nursing home or other chronic-care facility

*Someone who lives with a child under six months of age

*Someone who lives with or cares for those at risk for serious complications of flu

*Healthcare workers who provide direct patient care

"These are people who face a greater risk of complications from influenza or who could more easily spread the disease to people at risk," said Dr. Harry Hull, state epidemiologist with the health department.

The Paynesville Area Health Care System (PAHCS) ordered its flu vaccines from both suppliers this year and has received 1,700 doses from the French manufacturer. (Earlier this fall, British officials closed the manufacturing plant of the other vaccine manufacturer that supplies the United States.)

PAHCS has vaccinated everyone who met the original restrictions - people 65 and older with a chronic disease and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, said clinic manager Dorothy Winkelman. They are now trying to contact anyone who showed interest in getting the vaccine but did not meet the original qualifications.

PAHCS has used 1,600 of its flu vaccines already, according to Winkelman, and vaccinated all of its long-term care residents.

The remaining vaccines, numbering less than 100, will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis, said Winkelman. Anyone meeting the new qualifications and interested in getting a flu vaccine should call PAHCS as soon as possible.

PAHCS still has not been able to get any pediatric vaccine, for babies from six months to 18 months of age, said Winkelman. And PAHCS does not know if it will receive anymore flu vaccine this year.

Because prime flu season in Minnesota is December and January, PAHCS waited until November to administer its flu doses. The flu vaccine takes two weeks to provide maximum protection, and it decreases in effectiveness over time, said Winkelman, so the November vaccination start should provide maximum protection. Average adults, Winkelman added, may get sick from the flu but should recover, which is why health officials have targeted at-risk people with the limited vaccine supply.

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.

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