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Ban the Bug campaign urges Minnesotans to get their influenza vaccinations

Thu, Jan 7th, 2010
Posted in Health & Wellness

Now is a good time to get vaccinated for influenza, whether for 2009 novel H1N1 or seasonal influenza, say state health officials.

In an effort to promote flu vaccination, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the Minnesota Coalition for Adult Immunization (MCAI) and other organizations are sponsoring the annual Ban the Bug campaign beginning the week of Jan. 10-16 by providing opportunities for Minnesotans to get their influenza vaccinations.

The kick-off week of the campaign coincides with the Centers for Disease Control's National Influenza Vaccination Week.

In many communities around the state, local public health agencies, nonprofit groups and health care organizations will sponsor influenza vaccination clinics during the week of Jan. 10 through Jan. 16, as well as the entire month of January. In addition, vaccine is now available at a wide variety of locations, including retail clinics and pharmacies.

When the supply of H1N1 vaccine was limited, MDH and its partners made extensive efforts to vaccinate those at highest risk for complications from the H1N1 virus first, including most children. There is now plenty of vaccine coming into the state for the remainder of the population.

"We've done what we can to vaccinate our children and those most vulnerable to H1N1. Now it's time for the rest of us to be vaccinated," said Kristen Ehresmann, director of MDH's infectious disease division. "The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated."

Ehresmann stressed that it's not too late to get vaccinated. While influenza illnesses have declined in Minnesota, there is still sporadic activity; four states still have widespread flu activity and 13 report regional activity. Influenza may continue for several weeks or months yet, and it's possible that other waves of influenza may occur, caused by H1N1 or regular seasonal flu viruses. At the same time, vaccine supply is increasing. "This presents us with a window of opportunity to protect ourselves through vaccination from any possible new wave of disease," Ehresmann said.

In previous pandemics of novel influenza strains, third waves have occurred in winter following spring and fall waves. "Influenza is very unpredictable. We don't know what will happen in the future, but we can give ourselves some assurance and certainty with a flu shot or nasal spray," Ehresmann said.

Flu seasons in Minnesota typically peak anytime between January and May, so getting an influenza vaccination now can provide months of protection.

"I encourage anyone who hasn't yet done so to get vaccinated for influenza during Ban the Bug or National Influenza Vaccination Week. You'll be doing a lot to keep yourself, your family and your community healthy," Ehresmann said.

While H1N1 vaccine is open to anyone, it's still especially important for people in the priority groups to get vaccinated, Ehresmann said. In particular, children under 10 who received only one dose should now get their second dose (if they received the first dose at least 28 days ago).. Two doses are needed to provide full protection for young children.

Those for whom H1N1 vaccination is strongly recommended include:

Children and young adults ages 6 months to 24 years, whether or not they have a medical condition.

People ages 25 through 64 with chronic medical conditions that put them at risk for complications from influenza.

Pregnant women.

Health care providers and emergency medical services personnel.

People living with or caring for children under 6 months of age.

Those for whom H1N1 vaccine has only recently become available include people ages 25 to 64 without chronic or underlying medical conditions and people over 65.

While some national polls have indicated that some people have shied away from the H1N1 vaccine because of their perceptions about its safety, Ehresmann noted that a number of national studies and routine monitoring by state health departments are providing evidence that the vaccine is as safe and effective as regular, seasonal flu vaccine. "The CDC estimates more than 60 million people have already been immunized and no safety issues have yet turned up," she said.

The H1N1 vaccine is made using the same process as seasonal flu vaccine, which has an excellent track record for safety and effectiveness, Ehresmann added.

Many more Minnesotans than usual received seasonal flu vaccine early this year - in anticipation of having to get H1N1 later. Those who got seasonal but not H1N1 vaccine should now get the H1N1 vaccine.

If you didn't get your seasonal flu vaccine, it's not too late and you should also get H1N1 vaccine if you haven't. While supplies of seasonal vaccine are more limited than H1N1, some providers still have it. For those who don't like shots, a nasal spray is available for healthy people ages 2 through 49. You may get both shots at the same time, but it is recommended that doses of nasal spray be spaced four weeks apart. You may also get a shot and a nasal spray at the same time.

To find the flu clinic location nearest you, go to the MDH influenza Web site at www.mdhflu.com.

The cost of vaccinations will vary at each site. For H1N1, the vaccine itself is free, but some providers may charge an administrative fee. For seasonal, there is no cost to people with Medicare Part B and some other insurance plans, provided they bring their Medicare or other insurance cards with them. Those seeking shots are asked to wear short sleeves, perhaps under a sweater if it's cold, to make getting the shot easier.

Flu shots also may be given at other locations and times not listed on the MDH Web site. Check with your physician's office or regular walk-in clinic about getting vaccinated against the flu.


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