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'Tis the season for flu shots

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe District 518 Registered Nurse Wendy Donkersloot administers a flu shot to a kindergarten student Thursday afternoon at Prairie Elementary School.

WORTHINGTON -- At least 1,230 students in District 518 schools are receiving their flu vaccination this week thanks to a partnership between Sanford and Avera Worthington Specialty clinics in Worthington, and funding from the Worthington Regional Healthcare Foundation.

School nurse Wendy Donkersloot said Thursday that more than 500 students at Prairie Elementary, and another 600-plus students at Worthington middle and high schools received their vaccinations on Wednesday. Additional flu clinics were either conducted or are planned at St. Mary's and Worthington Christian schools, as well as the Alternative Learning Center. A district-wide flu clinic for teachers and staff will be next Wednesday, and more than 150 are signed up to receive that dose, she said.

This was the second consecutive year District 518 has offered the flu clinic, and Donkersloot deemed it a success with more than half of the student body getting the vaccine.

"It benefits everybody, in every shape and form -- the child from not getting sick, the children in the classroom because it's one less exposure," she said. "It benefits the teacher and the parents at home. The more children we can get vaccinated, the more people we're actually protecting."

The healthcare foundation covered the cost of the vaccine for children who didn't have insurance or whose insurance would not cover the vaccination, said Donkersloot.

"The clinic we did for the school kids would not be possible without the financial support from the Worthington Regional Healthcare Foundation," she added. Children covered by insurance could still get the vaccine, with the local clinics to get reimbursed for the costs.

As of yet, Donkersloot has not seen any flu symptoms in the school district, although Nobles-Rock Community Health Services Administrator Brad Meyer reported that Minnesota's first flu case was recorded in August.

"For some reason the seasonal flu started a little earlier this year," said Meyer, adding that this year is anticipated to be a relatively normal year in terms of the number of flu cases.

Unlike last year, this year's vaccination covers three strains -- one Type A, one Type B and the H1N1 strain. The trivalent means people will not need to get separate seasonal and H1N1 vaccinations this year.

Flu vaccine became available earlier this year than in the past, and health professionals have seen more demand for it earlier in the season.

Lynn Dierks, a registered nurse with Sanford Clinic Worthington, said they ran out of the injectable and were waiting for another shipment to arrive either Thursday or today. They had an ample supply of the flu mist.

"People already started calling in September to get the flu shot," Dierks said, adding that more people are asking for the injectable rather than the mist.

Sanford had to place its order for flu vaccine in March, and Dierks said she bases her order on the number of doses administered during the previous season. This year she ordered 1,400 doses.

At GuidePoint Pharmacy in Worthington, pharmacist Mike Ahlers said requests for flu vaccine is picking up. They received their vaccine supply about six weeks ago.

"It was a little slower to start off with, but now we're getting in the time where people are more comfortable receiving it," Ahlers said. "We still encourage everybody to get out and do it -- there is ample supply."

GuidePoint can only administer the vaccine to adults, as children sometimes require a booster shot.

Guidelines for who qualifies for the flu shot have changed a bit this year, with children as young as six months encouraged to receive the vaccination.

"There's a different dose this year for people ages 65 and older -- it's essentially two times the strength," said Meyer. "What we've found is the senior group needs more of a boost to their immunity, in addition to the regular flu shot."

Approximately 80 million doses of the flu vaccine have been made available in the United States for this flu season. The typical flu season begins at the end of September, with the peak arriving sometime in January or February.

Meyer encourages people to continue to take precautions against the flu, such as staying home if they are sick, coughing or sneezing into a tissue or the crook of their elbow if tissue isn't available, washing hands frequently and using hand sanitizer.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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