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Date Published: October 13, 2008

Record Supply of Flu Vaccine

Northwest Indiana residents headed to doctors offices, pharmacies and clinics this month as the annual flu shot season got under way. They are part of what health officials hope will be a record number of Americans getting vaccinated against the flu in a year with ample supplies of the vaccine and a dose better able to provide protection.

"We have more (flu vaccine) doses this year than we have had, and we're getting them earlier," said Joan Duwve, medical director with the Indiana State Department of Health. Close to 3,000 free flu vaccine doses are headed to Lake County and another nearly 900 to Porter County, of the more than 303,000 doses available statewide, Duwve said.

The free vaccines are for children, who are being urged in greater numbers than ever to get protected from the flu. A recommendation earlier this year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for all children from 6 months through 18 years to be vaccinated, an extra 30 million youngsters.

Previously, the vaccine routinely was recommend for children up to 5 years old. Dr. Tae'Ni Chang-Stroman, with Kids First Pediatrics in Dyer, said he has been giving the vaccine to his patients since August. That includes doses of a nasal mist flu vaccine, which some children find easier to tolerate than the traditional injectable version, Chang-Stroman said. The CDC's call for more children to be vaccinated was a good move, Chang-Stroman said. "It's actually going to lessen the severity of flu everywhere else," he said.

Children are more likely to get the flu, catching it at school or play, and bringing it home to the rest of the family, said Charlene Graves, chairman of the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Immunization Committee. "Children are the reservoir of influenza," Graves said. "If we can immunize those children, we should have less infection." It's especially important in households with elderly relatives, who are more susceptible to complications from the flu, Graves said.

The CDC said a record 143 million doses of flu vaccine should be available this year. About 141 million doses were produced in last winter's flu season, and about 112 million were used. The vaccine given in the United States last year proved to be a poor match for two of the three flu strains predicted to circulate. All three strains have been changed from last year's version of the vaccine, the CDC said. Local residents lined up for the shot at clinics in the Fagen chain of pharmacies throughout Northwest Indiana, pharmacist Marjie Biel said. A change in Indiana law last year permits pharmacists to give the flu shots in clinic settings, just as the Visiting Nurses Association does. "It's good news," Biel said. "It gives us another venue to serve patients."