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Flu shots become available for everyone

Anyone with the slightest interest in getting a flu shot this year will have that chance in about a week. State Health Director Dr. Leah Devlin announced Thursday that all restrictions on the flu vaccine will be lifted Jan. 24.

"We've polled the county health departments, and we know that there are about 100,000 doses of vaccine left at the health department level," Devlin said, in a press release.

"We are moving to lift all restrictions ... so that every dose available in the state is used to protect against flu infection."

The Wilson County Department of Public Health is making appointments for people eligible to receive the vaccine on Jan. 24 or later.

"We are making appointments now," said Shereen Mitchell, director of nursing at the Health Department. "I'm hoping this will help us utilize our vaccine."

The Health Department still has about 700 pediatric doses earmarked for children up to age 3 and about 1,000 doses for the rest of the public, including anyone over the age of 3. The vaccine is free this year since it is being provided through government agencies.

To make an appointment, call the Health Department at 237-3141.

Health officials are still urging people considered high risk for flu complications to seek a dose of the vaccine before supplies open up to the general public.

On Jan. 3, some flu vaccine restrictions were lifted, and shots became available to people age 50 and older as well as household contacts of high-risk individuals.

This week's decision to lift all restrictions stemmed from concerns that the vaccine would be wasted.

Health officials across the state and even in Wilson County questioned whether people would not seek the vaccine this late in the season. Most people receive their vaccinations between October and December.

Health officials continue to confirm that the vaccine is still a good defense against influenza.

"While fortunately flu activity this year remains moderately low, the amount of flu in communities is increasing as we approach the peak of the season in February," Devlin said. "Vaccination in January and early February will still prevent infection during the time that it is most likely."

It takes about two weeks for the body to build an immunity to the virus after receiving a shot.

Other states have also lifted all flu vaccine restrictions, including Nebraska, Alaska, New Jersey, California, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.