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Older Americans Now Encouraged to Get Swine Flu Shots

Plentiful vaccine supplies could help mitigate a new wave of H1N1 flu

Seasonal flu shots hard to find

Health officials likewise encourage just about everyone—especially older adults—to get a seasonal flu shot. But those who haven’t already done so are likely to find it difficult to find a dose now. To make way for H1N1 vaccinations, clinics and other providers pushed out the seasonal flu vaccine early this year, and heightened attention to flu in general seems to have caused a spike in demand. The “vast majority” of seasonal flu vaccine doses have already been used, according to the CDC’s Schuchat.

As of early January, though, there’s been very little seasonal flu activity in North America. It’s certainly not too late for an ordinary flu strain to begin making the rounds, but in many years flu activity has already peaked by February, said McGeer. “The later we go, the more hopeful I get that it’s going to be quiet.”

“My betting,” added McGeer, “is that we are going to see flu activity in February and March, and that it’s mostly going to be the pandemic strain.”

It’s possible the new H1N1 flu could actually displace other strains for a period of time, or it could circulate along with them, according to Derek Cummings, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

So far, the pandemic flu, though highly infectious and easily spread, has proved no more deadly than a typical seasonal flu, with an enormous number of Americans—roughly one in six—thought to have been infected, but only about 200,000 getting sick enough to land in the hospital. Indeed, as more people gain immunity to the pandemic flu through vaccination and infection, the distinction between this new strain and ordinary seasonal flu strains may fade away.

Katharine Greider lives in New York and writes about health and medicine.

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