State opens up flu vaccinations

Minnesota health officials plan to allow most people to receive H1N1 flu vaccinations.

If health-care providers have enough vaccine for priority groups such as young people, beginning Wednesday they may give shots or nasal mists to anyone, the Health Department announced Monday.

H1N1 flu vaccine has been in such short supply that state officials limited those who could receive them to those most likely to catch the flu.

“Many individual providers feel they are ready to make the H1N1 vaccine available to everybody,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan. “We are now advising them to take that step if they have an adequate supply of vaccine, once they have made sure that people at high risk for complications of H1N1 have had a chance to be vaccinated. The decision needs to be made by each individual provider, based on an assessment of their own situation.”

Since the H1N1 swine flu vaccine became available, it has been restricted to people younger than 24 years old, those up to 64 years old with chronic medical conditions, health-care workers, those caring for children younger than 6 months and pregnant women.

The first H1N1 wave hit Minnesota last spring, with a second wave beginning in the fall and just now waning. A third wave could sweep over Minnesota, officials say.

“We are still seeing some influenza activity from the H1N1 virus, and we could see a third major wave of illness sometime later in the winter,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Health Department Infectious Disease Division. “It’s still important to get vaccinated if you can.”

Health officials said those who want a vaccine should check with their doctors or other providers, before going to the office, to make sure vaccine is available. State officials have asked providers with excess vaccine to share it with those that are short of it.

About 1.4 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine have been sent to Minnesota, with 2.7 million Minnesotans the priority groups.

In the Health Department’s most recent report, for the week ending Dec. 5, only one of the state’s schools reported a flu outbreak. Earlier in the fall, about 280 schools had outbreaks.

The swine flu affects younger people more often than the elderly. However, older people with other health complications often are hard-hit by H1N1.

Forty-four H1N1 deaths have been reported in Minnesota, with five more deaths possibly H1N1 related. The seasonal flu, a different strain, has claimed at least one life.

More than 1,800 Minnesotans have been hospitalized with H1N1.

The seasonal flu often begins at about this time of year. Health officials say vaccinations for one type of flu do not protect people from the other type. Both shots are needed, they say.

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