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Kristen Daum, Published January 06 2010

Flu shot clinics avoid crisis

While health officials continue to encourage H1N1 flu vaccination, government projections of availability remain short of original expectations.

Health agencies nationwide first saw a shortage when doses of the so-called “swine flu” vaccine were released in early October, after manufacturers were slow to produce the highly demanded vaccine.

That continues to have an impact several months after the issue was first addressed, although demand has since decreased for the vaccine, said Molly Sander, the North Dakota Health Department’s immunization program manager.

North Dakota will have received about 107,000 fewer doses of the vaccine by Friday than was previously estimated, according to projections released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late September, Sander said.

Similar data is not available for Minnesota.

Because demand for the vaccine is low, with fewer people suffering from flu-like symptoms, the vaccine is more available to those who want it despite the production shortfalls, Sander said.

“There are doses definitely out there,” Sander said, adding that it’s worrisome if the public lowers its guard against the virus. “Right now is the perfect opportunity to be vaccinated.”

Although the second wave of the H1N1 flu has waned, officials expect a third wave to come possibly this spring, which is common with pandemics.

At the same time, the public faces the regular flu season, which usually peaks in January or February.

Public H1N1 vaccination clinics sponsored Tuesday in Fargo and Moorhead drew a steady turnout, which was positive news for Cass and Clay County public health officials who also want local residents to stay vigilant about vaccination.

The best preventive measure residents can take against contracting the flu is to be vaccinated against both the H1N1 and seasonal strains and to maintain healthy lifestyle practices, such as washing hands, said Kathy Anderson, Clay County Public Health nursing director.

“People need to remember that this isn’t over,” Anderson said of the H1N1 virus. “People aren’t getting sick now like they were earlier, but the likelihood that we’ll get another wave is very high.”

Public flu clinics in the area are expected to continue throughout this month, and vaccine shipments will continue arriving at least into early February, health officials said.

Nearly 100 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine were shipped nationwide by Dec. 31 – including more than 2.2 million to Minnesota and North Dakota health agencies, according to the CDC.

Flu resources

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541