Aging Well: H1N1 vaccine will be available to everyone — just not yet

Vaccine information

H1N1 vaccine currently is available to the following priority, high-risk groups:

• Adults 25 to 64 years of age with underlying health conditions

• Household contacts and caretakers of children 6 months and younger

•Pregnant women

• All persons between 6 months and 24 years of age

• All health care workers

Drop-in clinics

• 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Moffat County High School

• Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Steamboat Springs Middle School

H1N1 and flu clinics

(pneumonia vaccine also is available)

Moffat County

• 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Craig VNA

• Noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday at Murdoch’s

• Noon to 2 p.m. Thursday at Craig VNA

Routt County

• 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Nov. 24 at Steamboat Springs High School

•9 to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Dec. 13 at the Steamboat VNA

• 3 to 6 p.m. Dec. 2 at Hayden Town Hall

H1N1 vaccines are free. Seasonal flu shots cost $22 for adults and $14 or less for children. For updated information on seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccination clinics, visit www.nwcovna.info or call the flu hot line at 871-7684.

Many older adults are confused about flu vaccination guidelines, often because they are urged to get a seasonal flu vaccination, but the H1N1 vaccine isn’t available to most people in their age group.

H1N1, or “swine flu,” is a new influenza virus that appeared in the U.S. earlier this year.

While adults 65 and older are more likely than some other age groups to become seriously ill from both seasonal flu and H1N1, they have been found to be much less likely than younger individuals to become infected with H1N1.

Laboratory tests indicate this is because they have developed pre-existing immunity from exposure to similar viruses in the past.

Other individuals, such as pregnant women, children and younger adults with underlying health conditions, are not only more likely to become infected with H1N1, but they run a higher risk of becoming very sick.

Once the demand for vaccination among higher-risk priority groups is met, the vaccine will be available to older adults.

“Everyone will be able to get it,” said Janice Poirot, public health nurse at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. “We’re just asking those who haven’t been shown to have severe disease (or higher risk of infection) to be patient.”

Vaccines

Each year, scientists study flu virus samples from around the world to determine which strains are most likely to be prevalent in the following season. The FDA determines which three strains manufacturers should include in seasonal flu vaccines for the U.S.

The H1N1 vaccine was made using the same processes and facilities used to make the seasonal flu vaccine.

“There’s been no shortcuts,” Poirot said, noting that the H1N1 vaccine would have been incorporated into the seasonal flu vaccine — and it will be in some parts of the world — had there been more time between flu seasons in the U.S.

It can take as much as two weeks after vaccination for a person to develop protection.

Children 9 and younger who have never had the seasonal flu vaccine should get a booster vaccine four weeks after the initial vaccination for maximum immune response. The same is true for H1N1 vaccines.

Waiting longer than four weeks to get a booster vaccine puts a child at higher risk for becoming infected with flu.

“It is expected (H1N1) will come in waves,” Poirot said.

Allergic reactions to influenza vaccines are rare. People should consult with their doctor before getting the vaccine if they are allergic to chicken eggs, have had a severe reaction to the vaccine in the past, have a moderate to severe illness with a fever or have had Guillain-Barré syndrome. Children younger than 6 months should not receive the vaccine.

For more information about flu vaccine safety, visit www.flu.gov.

Older adults

Locally, the H1N1 vaccine may be available to all individuals 64 and younger in December. It will be available to everyone once that demand is met, Poirot said.

In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health care providers are urging adults 50 and older to get a seasonal flu vaccine as soon as possible to prepare for the upcoming flu season, which typically peaks in February.

There was a delay in seasonal flu shipments this fall, but almost all providers should have a good supply by now, Poirot said.

Flu symptoms include fever, aches, sore throat, chills and fatigue — H1N1 also may include vomiting and diarrhea. If older adults have these symptoms they should contact their doctor immediately.

People 65 and older are among those prioritized to receive antiviral treatments because of their risk of becoming seriously ill with pneumonia and other complications if infected with flu.

Anti-viral treatments help keep the infection from growing and are most effective in the first 48 hours of illness, Poirot said.

In addition to the seasonal flu vaccine, the CDC also recommends adults 65 and older receive a pneumococcal vaccine, which significantly lowers a person’s risk of developing pneumonia, meningitis and other infections caused by a certain family of bacteria.

Individuals 2 and older who have chronic conditions, as well as smokers and people with asthma, also are advised to get the vaccine.

A person typically only needs to be vaccinated once, unless they are 65 or older, at which time they should receive another dose of the pneumococcal vaccine (as long as at least five years have passed since the last one), according to CDC recommendations.

The vaccine is available during VNA drop-in flu clinics and by appointment.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanza

nares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7606.

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