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H1N1 vaccine 'trickling' into community

By Marcia Schroeder

Public Health RN

You could best describe the arrival of H1N1 vaccine in our community by saying that it is "trickling" in at a very slow rate.

Although Stevens, Traverse, and Grant counties have received very small amounts of H1N1 vaccine, the Minnesota Department of Health has provided very specific guidance as to which individuals are to receive these initial doses of vaccine, those being individuals considered to be at the very highest risk of complications from the H1N1 virus.

Based on recommendations from MDH, pregnant women, children under 4 years old with underlying medical conditions, and health care workers with direct patient contact should be the first to be offered the vaccine. In an effort to reach those high-risk groups, STG Public Health has been working with the area health care providers to identify those individuals and get them vaccinated. But so far, there still is not sufficient vaccine available to vaccinate those relatively small target groups.

The lack of available H1N1 vaccine becomes even more confusing when neighboring counties or communities are sponsoring public vaccination clinics that target a broader group of high-risk individuals. Because the large quantities of the H1N1 vaccine are being distributed in Minnesota through a randomization process, other counties or health care providers in Minnesota may have been fortunate to be among the first to receive large shipments of the H1N1 vaccine, allowing them to host public vaccination clinics for those targeted subsets. Although we have no control over how much, what type, or when the vaccine will arrive, with guidance from MDH, we will continue to plan thoughtfully to get the vaccine out in an efficient manner.

We anticipate that by mid- to late November, a small shipment of H1N1vaccine will be distributed statewide specifically for use in school-based H1N1 flu clinics. Although the initial quantity that we are anticipating will be minimal, more vaccine is expected to arrive for school children by mid-December.

Due to the extremely small number of doses that have been allocated, Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health and the three county Emergency Managers will be collaborating to develop a plan for how to most efficiently distribute this vaccine to school children.

Once again, MDH has provided guidance suggesting that these early school based efforts target those children who are 9 years old and younger, as they will still need to receive a second dose of vaccine approximately one month after the initial one. Letters and consent forms will be going out from area schools to all school-aged children this week; we encourage parents to send them back promptly so that we can quickly proceed with developing more specific school based clinic planning.

When larger quantities of the H1N1 vaccine do become available, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated. If you or a family member has been ill with flu-like symptoms, you cannot assume that you have now developed immunity to the H1N1 virus.

Only in rare instances have individuals had laboratory-confirmation of the H1N1 virus. Therefore, the Minnesota Department of Health officials are strongly advising that you still get the H1N1 vaccine, even if you suspect that you may have had the H1N1 virus.

For now, we encourage people not to call into their clinic to check on vaccine availability at this time, as many clinics are already flooded with calls and activity from sick patients. When the H1N1 vaccine becomes more widely available, communities will be notified through public announcements and other media sources about the availability of local H1N1 flu vaccination clinics. Your patience is much appreciated.

Marcia Schroeder is a Public Health Registered Nurse with Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health