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FOR RELEASE: November 15, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Health Department Receives Partial Shipments of Flu Vaccine

Long-awaited supplies of flu vaccine are beginning to arrive at the Oklahoma State Department of Health and are now available on a limited basis for "high risk" individuals at local county health departments. Health officials are asking that "high risk" individuals who have not received their flu shots be vaccinated as soon as possible. Flu vaccine shipments have already been made to nursing homes.

People at high risk for complications from the flu include persons over age 65; residents of nursing homes; persons with diabetes, immune system problems or lung disorders; and women who will be in their second or third trimester of pregnancy during the flu season which is November through April. Also, health care workers who care for high-risk persons should begin receiving their flu shots this month.

"With our most recent shipment to date, we have received slightly more than 115,000 doses of the total 210,000 doses of flu vaccine ordered," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. "Approximately 40,000 doses were distributed to nursing homes last week and county health departments will soon have on hand nearly two-thirds of their order. The balance of vaccine is expected to arrive later this month and in December, and will be distributed upon arrival."

Health officials also recommend pneumococcal vaccine for persons who are 65 years of age or older, or persons who have heart or lung problems or diabetes. This vaccine protects against pneumococcal pneumonia, the most common type of pneumonia resulting in hospitalizations and is available at physicians' offices and county health departments.

The recent cases of anthrax reported in Florida, New York City, New Jersey and in the Washington, D.C., area have some persons confused about the flu shot. Many of the persons with reported cases of anthrax indicated that early on, they had flu-like symptoms.

"Oklahomans should get the flu shot to prevent the flu, not to relieve anxieties about getting anthrax," Beitsch said. "Preventing the flu by getting a flu shot doesn't mean you won't get a sore throat, and getting a sore throat doesn't mean you have anthrax. A sore throat is one of several symptoms that can be common to a number of illnesses."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, does not recommend that influenza vaccination be considered as a way to avoid confusing influenza disease with suspected anthrax illness for the following reasons:

  • First, symptoms such as fever, body aches, and headache are common to many different infections, besides influenza and anthrax. Since the majority of such illnesses are not caused by influenza or anthrax, influenza vaccination will not prevent many such illnesses.
  • Second, influenza vaccine is not 100 percent protective and some people who have been vaccinated will still develop influenza.
  • Finally, CDC recommends that influenza vaccine supplies be targeted preferentially to health care workers, people with certain chronic medical conditions and the elderly who are at high risk for developing serious complications from influenza.

Oklahomans should get the flu shot to prevent the flu," Beitsch urged. "Every year 20,000 people in the U.S. die from influenza complications, and another 100,000 are hospitalized. Although the four reported deaths from anthrax were tragic, clearly Oklahomans should be more concerned about protecting themselves from influenza."

As the supply of flu vaccine becomes more available this month and into December, persons aged 50-64 and other healthy adults should be given the vaccine. Oklahoma does not usually see influenza disease until late December or January and in most years, flu activity does not peak until January or February. It takes about two weeks after the shot for a person to gain full immunity.

Therefore, even with a delayed vaccine schedule, the vaccine will still protect most people. The flu strains in this year's vaccine are A Moscow, A New Caledonia, and B Sichuan.

For more information about when flu shots will be available in your area, check with your health care provider, local county health department, pharmacist, or visiting nurse association.


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