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H1N1 vaccines to be offered to priority groups

Minnesota Department of Health Officials will begin recommending that health care providers and local public health agencies in Minnesota begin offering the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine to the full list of priority groups identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Until now, with vaccine in very limited supply, vaccination efforts in the state have been focusing on a limited number of people who faced the highest risk from H1N1 influenza. Those groups are estimated to include about 718,000 Minnesotans, primarily children under five, older children with underlying health problems, pregnant women and certain health care workers.

With the supply and availability of vaccine in the state steadily increasing, it's now possible to begin ordering and providing vaccine for the entire list of CDC priority groups. The expanded list is estimated to include about 2.7 million people in the state.

Under the distribution system being used in Minnesota, MDH continued to order additional vaccine as soon as it is allocated to the state by the CDC. The vaccine is then delivered directly to local health departments and health care providers.

The vaccine will be provided to a targeted group including those who are:

- Age six months through 24 years, with or without a health condition that puts them at higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

- Ages 25-64 years of age with a chronic medical condition that puts them at higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

- Pregnant women.

- Health care providers or emergency medical services personnel.

- Individuals living with or caring for children under six months of age.

The supply is still limited, so individuals who meet these guidelines should be patient and check with their health care provider or local health department about the availability of vaccine in their area. Local health agencies and health care providers are also expected to make public announcements as more vaccine becomes available. It is likely that it will be January before there will be enough vaccine for everyone who wants it.

Local health departments around the state are likely to schedule more public clinics as more vaccine becomes available. MDH officials will activate an H1N1 vaccine "clinic locator" tool on or shortly after Monday, Nov. 30. The clinic locator will be available on the MDH Web site at The locator will allow users to find a flu clinic location by zip code. The clinics will generally be limited to people in specific risk groups.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan noted that the next few weeks are an opportune time to be vaccinated against the H1N1 virus. While overall influenza activity is declining in the state, "there is still plenty of disease out there," she noted. Although officials expect the current assessment of flu activity in the state to be downgraded shortly-from "widespread" to "regional" - some areas in Minnesota and the rest of the country will continue to have higher levels than others. The approaching holidays are also a time when people may be traveling to or from one of the places that still have significant flu activity, raising the possibility that people will be exposed to the disease.

Magnan also emphasized that, if past pandemics are any indication, a third wave of illness should occur late this winter - possibly in January or February.