OLYMPIA - Since the county lifted most of the age restrictions for recipients of the H1N1 influenza vaccine earlier this month, most South Sound residents who have rolled up their sleeves for a shot have been senior citizens, the county health department reports.
“In the last two weeks, the majority of people who have gotten it have been over 50,” Thurston County Public Health officer Diana Yu said.
Steve Allred of GetAFluShot.com, which provides flu vaccines for the Ralph’s and Bayview Thriftway stores, and in other Washington and Oregon communities, said health care providers elsewhere have reported that senior citizens have been the most responsive.
“Eighty percent coming in for shots are seniors, who typically know they need it,” Allred said.
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Seniors got their chance to receive the vaccinations after Dec. 10, when the county lifted restrictions on who could receive the vaccine. In the past, seniors have been the age group targeted for seasonal flu shots, but that hasn’t been the case with this year’s outbreak of H1N1.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that H1N1 flu, which humans have not been exposed to before this year, spread most quickly among children and young adults. People older than 50 were not catching the flu at the same rate, the CDC reported.
For about two months in Thurston and many other counties, priority was given to children, teens, young adults, health care workers and pregnant women. Children 6 months and younger are too young to get any flu vaccine, but their family members are encouraged to get vaccinated. Vaccines are available via injection and nasal spray.
Allred said he feared that seniors might erroneously think that because they were not in the target population in the beginning, they are not at risk.
Although they’re the least likely age group to catch H1N1 flu, seniors who get sick are at greater risk than people in other age groups of developing serious complications from the illness, according to the CDC.
The CDC’s guidelines give priority to seniors for anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu.
Yu said that doctors also have adjusted their approach to treating people who come in with flu symptoms.
“People who complained of breathing difficulty, they admitted them right away,” she said.
And although the vaccine was in limited supply and high demand when it first was available in Thurston County – coinciding with the weeks of large numbers of children missing school because of flu symptoms – there now appears to be enough supply to meet the demand, Yu said.
The county has received about 75,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine, Yu said. At least 18,000 doses have been administered.
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