ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Students who lined up for flu vaccines Tuesday at Lew Wallace Elementary School were contributing to what is expected to be another record year for child immunizations throughout New Mexico.
Health officials estimate that some 55,000 children at 460 New Mexico schools will be immunized for flu at school-based clinics this year.
About 51,000 New Mexico students received flu vaccines at schools during the 2013-14 flu season.
Quite a few “wouldn’t get a flu vaccine if not for this clinic,” said the school’s principal, Anna Marie Strangio. “It’s here, and it’s easy.”
Many of the school’s 284 students are from low-income families and have working parents who would be unlikely to seek out a flu vaccine clinic, Strangio said. The clinics also help keep teachers and staff healthy, she said.
“We appreciate it when we don’t have a school full of flu,” she said.
Health officials credit the school-based clinics for New Mexico’s flu vaccination rates that exceed the U.S. average.
About 67 percent of New Mexico children 17 and younger were vaccinated for flu during the 2013-14 flu season, compared with the U.S. rate of 57 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Anna Pentler, executive director of the New Mexico Immunization Coalition, said the state has received ample supplies this year through the federal Vaccines for Children program.
But the University of New Mexico Hospital, which provides thousands of free flu shots at its metro-area clinics, is off to a slow start this year because of delays in its vaccine deliveries.
UNMH canceled its first two shot clinics, scheduled earlier this month, because of vaccine manufacturing delays.
On Monday, UNMH announced that it would begin offering free flu shots Saturday, beginning with a drive-through clinic from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at UNMH’s Northeast Heights Family Health Clinic, 7801 Academy NE.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent seasonal flu, said Dr. Meghan Brett, UNMH’s epidemiologist. The state Department of Health reported 34 flu-related deaths in New Mexico during the 2013-14 flu season.
“Flu season typically starts in December,” she said. “Even though we’re getting our flu vaccine late, there’s still plenty of time for people to get vaccinated and be protected against the flu.”
A spokeswoman for Presbyterian Healthcare Services said Tuesday that the system had received flu vaccine supplies on time and was able to provide free flu shots at clinics last weekend.
Flu shots also are widely available at New Mexico pharmacies and other retailers, including many Walmart and Target stores.
The CDC recommends that all Americans 6 months and older get an annual flu shot.
GlaxoSmithKline, which supplies vaccine for UNMH, announced in September that manufacturing problems at a plant in Canada would affect its ability to supply vaccine in the U.S. market.
Manufacturers this year are distributing flu vaccine “slightly later” than last year, according to the CDC. As of Sept. 20, all flu vaccine manufacturers had distributed about 12 percent fewer doses than in 2013 through the same date.
“Despite these early season shipping delays, however, manufacturers anticipate the majority of their flu vaccine distribution will occur by the end of October,” the agency said in a written statement.
ABOUT THE FLU
- The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.
Signs and symptoms of flu
Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
How flu spreads
- Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.
How serious is the flu?
- Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease).
- Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.