"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," said State Health Director Dr. Leah Devlin. "The local health directors estimate that 40,000 could be made available to the general population. There may be a small number of doses available in private offices. We are moving to lift all restrictions effective January 24 so that every dose available in the state is used to protect against flu infection. "
Thursday's action came at the request of the State Health Director to the North Carolina Commission for Health Services. The commission, which enacts public health rules and regulations, held a special teleconference Thursday morning and unanimously voted to lift all restrictions on who can receive the vaccine.
In a normal year, public health authorities encourage everyone to get a flu shot, but this has not been a routine year. In early October, the manufacturer of half of the nation's flu shot supply announced that it could not deliver its vaccine due to a problem at its United Kingdom manufacturing facility.
At that point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restricted the vaccine to seniors, young children, people with chronic medical conditions and a few other high-risk categories.
On Jan. 3, the CDC relaxed those restrictions to allow people 50 and older to get shots along with household contacts of high-risk individuals.
"Between now and the 24th of January, we are urging people in those high-risk groups to be vaccinated," Devlin said. "After the 24th, anyone can be vaccinated. You should contact your local health department or personal health care provider to see what's available in your area. "
Devlin noted that it is not too late to be vaccinated.
"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," she said.
Vaccination in January and early February will still prevent infection during the time that it is most likely.
The state monitors flu activity through a sentinel system. Sixty health providers across North Carolina report the number of their patients who are experiencing influenza-like illness (ILI), which is a fever of at least 100 degrees and cough or sore throat. Thursday's sentinel report shows that 1.18 percent of the sentinel patients reporting ILI.
Nebraska, Alaska, New Jersey, California, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have also lifted all flu vaccination restrictions.
When the flu shot restrictions are lifted Jan. 24, there is no guarantee everyone can get it. More than 8 million people live in North Carolina and just over 1.2 million doses were shipped in the state.
Wake County Health Department doses are free, but cost and supplies vary in other counties. You are asked to call your local health department or doctor for details.
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