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Vaccination rates dropping among 65-and-older crowd

By Mike Nowatzki Forum News Service BISMARCK -- Despite early delivery delays, North Dakota should have an adequate supply of flu vaccine this season for those who want the protective measure, state health officials said Monday. North Dakota heal...

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FNS Photo by Mike Nowatzki Jenn Pelster, 31, of Bismarck, receives a flu shot from public health nurse Jessica Barker on Monday at Custer Health in Mandan.

 

By Mike Nowatzki

 

Forum News Service

 

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BISMARCK - Despite early delivery delays, North Dakota should have an adequate supply of flu vaccine this season for those who want the protective measure, state health officials said Monday.

 

North Dakota health care providers received 303,920 doses of influenza vaccine during the 2013-14 season, and the number of doses ordered this year should be comparable, said Amy Schwartz, immunization surveillance coordinator for the state Department of Health.

 

As of Sept. 10, the state had received more than 40,000 doses, compared with 180,000 doses at the same time last year. Schwartz said a couple of vaccine suppliers are reporting shipment delays because of manufacturing problems.

 

"But we’re expecting to have all of the doses that they promised us by October and November," she said.

 

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The Health Department recorded 2,922 flu cases last season, which is roughly average for the past 10 years, said Jill Baber, flu surveillance coordinator. The cases included 149 hospitalizations and eight deaths - three of them in adults under age 60.

 

Baber said the three younger-adult deaths were a "slightly unique" aspect of last season, one that health officials believe may be linked to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain, also known as swine flu, having been the predominant flu virus. A Type A or Type B flu strain is usually predominant, but last season, H1N1 accounted for 452 of the 456 flu cases in which the type was known, she said.

 

"It’s impossible to say what we are expecting for the coming season," she said. "Flu seasons are unpredictable in nearly every aspect. Their timing, their severity, even the strains that are circulating can vary widely."

North Dakota’s flu vaccination rate among all age groups was about 49 percent last season, Schwartz said. Of concern, she said, is that the vaccination rate among residents 65 and older has dropped from 74 percent in 2002 to 63.6 percent last season, which is below the U.S. average of 65 percent.

"We haven’t identified the reason. We’re kind of trying to figure it out, but we are concerned about it," she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that as many as 159 million doses of flu vaccine will be available from licensed manufacturers during the 2014-15 flu season. As of Sept. 12, 54.8 million doses had been delivered to U.S. providers, compared with 61.8 million doses by that time last year, Schwartz said.

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Baber said North Dakota providers are currently seeing very few cases of flu, after recording more cases than usual in the summer.

Flu season usually peaks in February or March, but because the vaccine takes two weeks to become effective, people should get it early in the season, Schwartz said.

While the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective, it can offer protection against severe complications from the flu, she said. She urged people to get the flu shot, nasal spray or intradermal vaccine to protect themselves and their loved ones.

"Even if you don’t think you need the flu shot for yourself, everyone knows someone who is at high risk for complications due to influenza," she said.

The CDC’s Advisory Comm ittee on Immunization Practices has made a new recommendation this flu season that children between ages 2 and 8 should receive nasal flu mist, if available, because it’s been shown to be more effective for that age group, Schwartz said. If the mist isn’t available, they should be vaccinated by other means, she said.

Flu vaccines are available at local public health units, primary care providers and pharmacies. Vaccination locations can be found online at flushot.healthmap.org.

 

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