STATE—In order to vaccinate as many New Jerseyans as possible, the Department of Health and Senior Services notified vaccine providers today that they may offer the vaccine to all who want it.
Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard said the decision to expand to the general public was based on several factors. “The level of H1N1 vaccine has significantly increased in the state to 2.25 million doses and local and county health officials have indicated that H1N1 vaccine demand among individuals within target groups has decreased. In addition, the CDC recently recommended that states consider increasing vaccine access to the general public,” Howard said.
Many states in the northeast region and others across the country have also expanded their vaccination programs to the general public.
To date, the H1N1 vaccination program has been limited to individuals in specific target groups who were most at risk of serious complications from the flu. The department emphasized that it is still important for those in target groups to get vaccinated as soon as possible because they remain at higher risk of severe illness or complications from H1N1 influenza.
Local health departments and other health care providers, depending on the needs of their communities, may still schedule clinics specifically for individuals in target groups at greatest risk of complications from H1N1.
“Priority groups are still priority groups,’’ said Deputy Commissioner Dr. Susan Walsh, “and it is appropriate that efforts continue to provide opportunities for those most at risk to receive vaccination.”
The target groups are pregnant women, children and young adults between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, and people age 25 to 64 who have underlying health conditions that increase risk. The priority groups also include health care workers, emergency medical services providers and caregivers of children less than 6 months old.
Approximately 2.25 million doses of vaccine have already been distributed to nearly 1,400 providers in New Jersey. Available supply is expected to increase through the end of this month and January. The CDC has projected that there will be enough vaccine for all who wish to receive it.
There are several tools available on the department’s website to help the public find an H1N1 clinic near them. People interested in finding an H1N1 vaccination clinic near them should use the Department’s Find-A-Flu shot locator at www.nj.gov/health or they can call the Department’s H1N1 hotline at 1-866-321-9571. The hotline has responded to more than 29,300 calls since opening Oct. 6. Individuals should also speak with their healthcare provider about availability of vaccine and general public health precautions to remain healthy.
“Vaccination remains our most effective tool to prevent the flu,” stated Walsh, “but remember to continue to practice good public health. Wash your hands frequently, cover your cough and sneezes and stay home if you are sick.”
In addition, this week the Department is reporting four H1N1 related deaths to the CDC. They are:
• A 46-year-old Middlesex County male, with no known underlying conditions. He was hospitalized on Nov. 24.
• A three-year-old Bergen County female with underlying medical conditions. She was hospitalized on Nov. 27 and died on Nov. 29.
• A 55-year-old Morris County male with underlying medical conditions. He was hospitalized on Nov. 26 and died on Dec. 5.
• A 21-year-old Warren County male with underlying medical conditions. He was hospitalized on Nov. 19.
Including the deaths being reported to the CDC today, a total of 20 H1N1 deaths have been reported to the CDC since Sept. 1, 2009. There were 18 deaths reported to the CDC during last spring’s H1N1 outbreak.
Fortunately, most of the cases continue to be mild, although there have been deaths reported as with any influenza season. And it’s important to remember that influenza viruses can change very quickly. With that in mind the department will continue to monitor influenza activity in our state as this flu season evolves.
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