Now: H1N1 vaccine for the rest of usAnticipating another wave of H1N1 flu later this season, health officials are encouraging more people to get vaccinated even though the number of new cases continues to drop.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Anticipating another wave of H1N1 flu later this season, health officials are encouraging more people to get vaccinated even though the number of new cases continues to drop.
The Minnesota Department of Health this week expanded access to the vaccines to anyone, not just high-risk residents. Those vaccines became available for the first time Wednesday.
“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,” Kris Ehresmann, director of the MDH Infectious Disease Division, said in a statement. “It’s still important to get vaccinated if you can.”
While some Twin Cities clinics were bracing for big crowds this week with more people eligible for vaccinations, Northland providers say they are instead offering the vaccine through patients’ doctors.
Yet Minnesotans seem to have lost interest in the H1n1 flu.
“We’ve got vaccine sitting in [refrigerators] that aren’t being accessed. We aren’t seeing many people show up,’’ said Guy Peterson, St. Louis County public health director. “We were expecting 600 or more in Hibbing and Virginia and we barely got 250 at each of those clinics.’’
Mary Green, St. Luke’s hospital spokeswoman, said there has been a “slight increase in requests’’ since the vaccinations opened to everyone earlier this week. The hospital continues to offer vaccines through patients’ doctors.
SMDC Health System still has about 6,000 H1N1 vaccines remaining and will dole them out through primary-care physicians by appointment, said Beth Johnson, SMDC spokeswoman. Those shots will now cost $20.40. Fast-track vaccination appointments can be made with little or no office waiting time, she said.
“Demand has been moderate,’’ she said. “We aren’t seeing any rush as of now.’’
New deaths confirmed in Carlton, Bayfield counties
Six new H1N1 flu-deaths were confirmed by the state Wednesday, although they occurred weeks ago. Those included two Carlton County adults, one aged 30-39 and the other 50-59, who died on Nov. 18 and on Nov. 23. Both had pre-existing medical problems.
Notwithstanding the deaths, MDH reported the rate of new H1N1 flu cases continues to decline. Only two schools reported an outbreak last week, and no nursing homes did. Only three new confirmed H1N1 hospitalizations were reported statewide, down from more than 400 per week at the peak of the outbreak in October. Health officials reported a slight increase in the number of visits to clinics for flu-like symptoms last week, possibly a sign that seasonal flu — a separate strain from H1N1 — is beginning to affect the state.
Since June, 56 people have died from flu-related causes in Minnesota, all but one of them confirmed or suspected to be H1N1. About 1.4 million doses of the vaccine have been allocated for the state, with more expected in the coming weeks. About 2.7 million Minnesotans belong to one of the priority groups identified by CDC — including children and adults with pre-existing medical conditions and the people who care for them.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported Wednesday the death toll from the illness has risen to 47 since April. New deaths were confirmed in the last week in Bayfield, Dane, Milwaukee and Polk counties.
The department says the number of swine-flu related hospitalizations has also increased to 854 even though the number of overall cases is declining all over the state at the moment.
Earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control recalled thousands of children’s doses of H1N1 vaccine nationwide, including some shipped to Minnesota and Wisconsin, because they may have had lower than usual strength.
Neither St. Louis County nor St. Luke’s received any of the recalled doses. SMDC had none of the recalled vaccines in Minnesota but had already used some of the recalled vaccines at clinics in Ashland and Hayward, Johnson said.
The CDC recommends that those patients do not need to get a duplicate vaccination because the doses were likely strong enough to be effective. However, the CDC continued to stress the importance of two doses of H1N1 vaccine for all children who are less than 10 years old. The doses should come about one month apart.
Peterson said the H1N1 vaccine, like some others, is sensitive to cold temperatures but that precautions are taken to protect them from the Northland’s recent blast of sub-zero temperatures. The vaccines are transported in insulated coolers and are discarded if exposed to frigid temperatures, she noted. While the vaccine can’t freeze, it must be stored in refrigerators to keep it fresh.