Young, elderly among 'priority groups' for early flu vaccination

Vaccine to first be distributed to those with elevated risk of contracting virus, then available to everyone after Oct. 24

The 2005-06 influenza vaccine season is upon us. At this juncture, it appears as though this season’s influenza vaccine supply should be adequate for anyone desiring to receive the vaccine this fall. For the second year in a row now, each of the three regional health systems, the College of Medicine, Crusader Clinic, and the Health Department are united in our work together (as an Influenza Vaccination Consortium) to improve influenza vaccination coverage by focusing on three specific goals:

assure early vaccine supply to priority groups;

expand vaccine availability community-wide;

assure a consistent message promoting the importance of influenza vaccination.

The primary variable is the staggered arrival of the influenza vaccine to individual providers and communities. Because of this timeliness uncertainty, the local Consortium and nationally the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommending that only the following priority groups receive the vaccine up to Oct. 24. By that time, there should be increasingly enough vaccine to offer it to everyone who is interested in receiving the influenza vaccine this season.

Priority groups—Focus of vaccination prior to Oct. 24

adults aged 65 years and older;

all children aged 6-23 months;

people aged 2-64 years with comorbid conditions;

pregnant women;

residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities;

health-care workers involved in direct patient care; and

household contacts/caregivers of children younger than 6 months.

In Winnebago County, it’s estimated that more than 109,000 individuals fall into these priority groups.

Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract and spread from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms of the flu include a fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough. Once an individual has contracted this infection, symptoms usually develop within one to four days. Those who are infected with the virus can actually be contagious approximately one day prior to symptoms appearing and up to five days after symptoms appear. This type of illness can linger for one to two weeks.

The influenza vaccine is the best way to prevent infection with the flu virus and the complications associated with the flu. Because the flu virus changes each year, everyone must be re-vaccinated each year. Influenza season usually runs from December through April and most frequently peaks between the end of January and the middle of February.

Everyone plays an important role in preventing the transmission of the flu. These include the following: avoid close contact with anyone who is exhibiting upper respiratory symptoms, stay home when ill with similar symptoms, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, wash hands frequently with soap and warm water and teach children to follow the same instructions, and lastly, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.

The Consortium thanks the community for their understanding through the month of October as vaccinations are focused on the priority groups. After Oct. 24, the vaccine supply will be opened to all individuals in the community.

From the Oct. 12-18, 2005, issue

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