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Influenza-like illness Reported by Minnesota Schools by County. 230 Schools Reporting Outbreaks for Week 41

H1N1 flu vaccine going to youngest kids

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A special public health strike force went into schools in Detroit Lakes, Frazee and Audubon today to administer H1N1 flu vaccine to kindergarteners and first-graders.

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Parental permission slips were sent home with students on Friday, and it's not clear how many were returned by today.

Becker County Community Health Supervisor Ronda Stock said she would be happy if even 50 percent of the youngsters were vaccinated.

"We received a limited shipment of partially live vaccine on Friday, so we have targeted kindergarten and first grade," she said.

The shipment arrived unannounced, sending Stock scrambling to notify superintendents on Friday in time to set up the "very limited strike force" that went out today.

Students in the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School District were not included in the Becker County distribution because they are covered by the White Earth tribe and by Norman-Mahnomen Public Health, Stock said.

Although consent forms sent home to parents give parents the choice of a shot or a nasal mist, only the nasal mist is available.

(The consent forms are "template" forms from the state health department, Stock explained).

"Children are only being offered the nasal live attenuated vaccine (the nasal mist) in the school settings this week," she said.

The nasal inhalant is "really a slick deal if you're needle-shy," she added.

Though some parents might balk at the thought of a vaccine containing a "live" virus, using "live attenuated vaccines" is actually standard practice against many illnesses, including measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox.

The vaccine is a much weaker strain of the virus, which allows a person to develop antibodies to the H1N1 flu. Children are exposed to a much stronger live virus by coming in contact with a sick person.

There will be a public H1N1 flu vaccination clinic for kids ages 2 to 5 at the Becker County Human Services building (located at 712 Minnesota Ave. in Detroit Lakes) from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.

"It will be on a first-come, first-served basis," Stock said. "Whatever we have left of this shipment," will be dispensed. "There are no guarantees," she added. "People might stand in line and we have to say 'sorry folks, that's all we have.'"

For security reasons, Stock would not say how many doses of the H1N1 vaccine that Community Health received in the last shipment. But she did say she was disappointed.

"I had been told that we would receive a very high number of doses so we could schedule clinics and get all the high risk groups (vaccinated)," she said.

She is especially disappointed that Community Health still has not received any vaccines suitable for pregnant women, who make up a high-risk group.

"We have received a very, very limited supply of injectable vaccine, but it's not the type designed for pregnant women, which is unfortunate," she said.

Area clinics also received a "very, very -- with a capital vee -- limited supply" of injectable vaccine for high-risk patients, she said.

Nationally, the vaccine manufacturing process has been much slower than expected, and the distribution to counties from the state health department has been somewhat chaotic.

"For me, it has been almost like Ding Dong Ditch," Stock said. "I have no idea when it's going to arrive or what is in there when it shows up on my desk."

Some counties in the area have recently publicized flu clinics based on promised shipments of vaccine that never showed up, she added.

To have a chance at the nasal mist vaccine, people with kids age 2-5 need to show up at the public flu clinic on Thursday.

"I cannot withhold vaccine," Stock said. "I can't save it for people ... and we can't go to every daycare or ECFE program in the county -- they'll have to take the initiative to get to the (public flu) clinic."

Parents who have children with high-risk conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, should talk to their doctors and wait until shots are available, since the nasal mist is not suitable for them, she said.

Two weeks ago the county held an unpublicized flu clinic for a select group of people whose jobs put them on the front line of the flu fight, but it was very poorly attended, Stock said.

She thinks there will be more interest now that the H1N1 flu is more widespread and more hospitalizations and even deaths are being reported across the country.

For more information, call the Becker County Flu "Warmline" at 218-844-7053 or go to the Becker County Website at www.co.becker.mn.us/

Other phone numbers of interest:

Minnesota Flu Information Line: 1-866-259-4655.

H1N1 Flu Public Information Hotline: 1-800-657-3903.

Becker County Community Health: 218-847-5628.

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