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Flu shots prove hard to find

It wasn't all that long ago doctors had to practically beg their patients to get flu shots. Now, they're having trouble keeping up with the demand.

With widespread concerns about an H1N1 flu pandemic and illnesss-related absences spiking in recent weeks in Rosemount schools plenty of people are eager to get their hands on a vaccine. The trick, it seems, is finding one.

Dawn Baddeley, manager of the Fairview Rosemount clinic, said demand has outpaced demand so far this flu season.

"That is the constant tension that we feel every day," Baddeley said. "We quickly deployed our seasonal vaccine supply and that hasn't been replenished."

Baddeley said injectable H1N1 vaccine for young children has been hard to come by. Supplies of a nasal spray version of the vaccine are a little bit easier to find, but not much.

That shortfall has slowed vaccination efforts at clinics and in the Dakota County Department of Public Health. County health officials have been working with school districts around Dakota County to plan H1N1 flu shot clinics in at least one school in every district, but public health director Bonnie Brueshoff said the vaccine has not been available in great enough supply to make the clinics possible.

"With this whole campaign we're having to be flexible and patient, and part of the flexibility is when we get vaccines and how much we get," Brueshoff said.

Brueshoff said county health department employees have been in contact with school superintendents and health workers on a regular basis since August. The next possible clinic in District 196 is Dec. 3, but if the vaccines do not arrive on time those clinics would have to be delayed until at least January.

"It's a wait-and-see mode," Brueshoff said. "We're just proceeding with identifying some dates that we'd ask the schools to hold. They requested we have at least a two-week notice to them whether it's a go or not."

Kim Craven, assistant to superintendent Jane Berenz, said the district has toured Rosemount and Eastview high schools with an eye toward holding clinics there, but the actual locations of the clinics will depend in part on what else is scheduled at the schools once dates are actually set.

In the meantime, the county is doing what it can with the vaccine supplies it has on hand. The county started holding twice-weekly appointment-only vaccination clinics on Oct. 29.

"They've filled up quickly," Brueshoff said.

Brueshoff said the county has given about 1,000 vaccinations so far.

The county has also planned a pair of free, drop-in H1N1 vaccination clinics from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Western Service Center in Apple Valley and the Northern Service Center in West St. Paul. The clinics, which will offer only the nasal spray version of the vaccine, will focus on healthy children from 2 to 9 years of age. No one with a chronic condition can get the vaccine.

Demand for the vaccines has slowed somewhat as incidents of the flu have tapered off and absentee numbers at schools have come back to normal levels. Illness-related absences peaked on Oct. 14, according to school health officials.

But Brueshoff expects to see another wave.

"It's still circulating and may come back early next year in the spring," she said. "With a true pandemic you have these waves."