December 18, 2003
State Updates Flu Vaccine Efforts
Augusta - State health officials at the Department of Human Services held a press conference today to provide a further update on influenza activity in Maine and the state’s efforts to make sure that persons who are at highest risk receive the flu vaccine.
“We are continuing to monitor influenza activity in Maine,” said Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH, Director of DHS’ Bureau of Health, “and we continue to work closely with health care providers across the state to provide assistance as that activity increases.”
The first cases of influenza in Maine were documented in late November. During this past week, influenza activity has increased with sporadic cases now being reported in most areas of the state. Medical providers participating in a special DHS flu surveillance system reported that an average of 7% of all patient visits last week were for influenza-like illnesses, up from 1% in the previous week. Providers in Aroostook and York Counties and the Mid-Coast area reported large numbers of persons with positive influenza laboratory tests.
Dr. Mills noted that initial results from the State Laboratory indicate that Maine is experiencing the same flu virus most common circulating in the nation as a whole, influenza A (H3N2). “As of this date, however,” she continued, “we have not received reports of severe complications among young children in Maine, as has been reported in some western states.”
With respect to flu vaccine supply, the Bureau of Health has distributed approximately 80,000 doses of flu vaccine this fall to health care providers for their high-risk patients. The Immunization Program currently has some supplies of vaccine and was able to obtain about 1000 doses over the past several days, and is expecting another 500 in the next three weeks.
“We are distributing these supplies to clinics so they can give them to high-risk Mainers,” said Kathleen Gensheimer, MD, MPH, the State Epidemiologist, “particularly for pediatric patients and pregnant women.” Dr. Gensheimer added that health care providers have reported increasing demand for influenza vaccines over the past 10 days. “In instances where health care providers report having less vaccine than they need for high-risk patients, we are devoting our energies to making sure supply demand in those areas,” Dr. Gensheimer said.
State health officials are encouraging anyone who is over 64 years old, 2 or older with a chronic underlying condition, pregnant beyond the 1st trimester, as well as children aged 6 months to 23 months old call their health care provider to arrange for a flu vaccine. If the vaccine is unavailable at that time, the person will be notified of a high-risk vaccine clinic in the area and a waiting list will be generated.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that they plan on making the nasal vaccine, FluMist, available for states to purchase at a reduced rate - $20 per dose - less than half the previous retail rate. FluMist is encouraged for persons 5 to 49 and otherwise healthy and is available by prescription from a health care provider. The Bureau of Health is also working to make this vaccine more available to Maine health care providers.
Dr. Mills further noted that everyone in the state can participate in the effort to reduce harmful germs by using and teaching good respiratory etiquette. “You should stay home from school or work or if you or your child is ill, especially if they with fever or respiratory symptoms.” She also added that people should cover their cough or sneeze with a tissue or a sleeve and clean their hands frequently.
More information about flu vaccine clinics, keeping germs to yourself and what to do if you cannot get flu vaccine is available by contacting your health care provider or on the Internet at www.MainePublicHealth.Gov