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FOR RELEASE: December 8, 2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Oklahoma Relaxes Flu Shot Restrictions

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced today that it is expanding its influenza vaccine guidelines to allow adults age 50 and older to get the vaccine. State Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Crutcher said this decision was made in order to vaccinate more persons whose health could be at risk from complications from influenza. The new guidelines take effect tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 9.

“In spite of the national influenza vaccine shortage, the Oklahoma State Department of Health has now received most of the influenza vaccine we originally ordered,” Crutcher said. “We want to make certain this vaccine gets in the arms of our citizens who need it and doesn’t sit on the shelf, so we are relaxing the high-risk group guidelines to now include those adults age 50 and over.”

Crutcher said the limited expansion would also include household contacts of high priority individuals, as well as those persons working in critical service professions, such as police officers, firefighters, teachers, and health care workers who have not yet been vaccinated.

In previous announcements, the Oklahoma State Department of Health has urged compliance with high-risk group recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices following announcement of the influenza vaccine shortage. Those recommendations suggested that for healthy adults, only those who were age 65 and older should be vaccinated.

“We feel our local county health departments and the private vaccine providers have done an excellent job in reaching out to the high-risk groups defined by CDC to make certain those most at risk have had access to the vaccine,” Crutcher said. “Now, before we get much later into the season, we want to get this vaccine distributed as widely as possible to those who still need protection.”

In accordance with the state’s limited expansion of the influenza vaccine guidelines, Gov. Brad Henry will amend the Executive Proclamation he issued October 21 to include the additional groups in his influenza vaccination recommendations to health care providers.

“I am pleased with how our state health officials have managed our flu vaccine,” Gov. Henry said. “In the midst of the nationwide shortage of vaccine, our state is fortunate that we are now in a position to expand our guidelines so that more Oklahomans can receive a flu shot. Our health care community has acted with responsibility and compassion.”

Crutcher said that under the influenza vaccine reallocation program administered by CDC, some states received enough vaccine to meet the needs of their high-risk populations, while other states did not. CDC has asked those states with remaining vaccine to consider providing vaccine to states that still need it, before relaxing the high-risk group guidelines. Oklahoma has followed this request, by offering vaccine for trade. Thus far, vaccine has been provided to the states of Delaware and Tennessee as well as New York City.

“Our county health departments tell us fewer and fewer people who meet the high-risk group guidelines are seeking influenza vaccination,” Crutcher noted. “Although we have been blessed to have a mild influenza season - no cases have yet been confirmed in Oklahoma - we do not want to go into January with influenza vaccine remaining in our inventory.”

Crutcher said even though the CDC has announced plans to import additional influenza vaccine to administer through an Investigational New Drug program, there would be little significant benefit for Oklahoma to participate in such a program. “Our focus is to administer the vaccine we still have on hand,” he emphasized.

For more information on obtaining an influenza shot, contact your local county health department or your regular health care provider.

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