A shortage of seasonal flu vaccine has forced the state's health department to ease up on mandatory flu shot requirements for young children who want to remain in day care and preschool.
On Tuesday, New Jersey's Department of Health and Senior Services announced that children between the ages of 6 and 59 months who are in day care or preschool do not need a seasonal flu shot. Normally, they would have to get vaccinated by Dec. 31, 2009.
However, state health officials still want children to get vaccinated if they can get a hold of the vaccine.
"We still strongly encourage parents to get their kids vaccinated," said DHSS Commissioner Heather Howard. "Our message is still the same."
The seasonal flu vaccine is one of 11 vaccines that children are required to get as a prerequisite for entering day care or preschool in New Jersey. Children in that age range still need the other vaccinations.
According to Howard, manufacturers have said that more seasonal flu vaccine should be available in December. However, since the state does not know how many doses of the vaccine will be available, the requirements for young children will be waived for this year.
No seasonal flu clinics currently are scheduled for the area. Howard said she does not know how many people have already been vaccinated, but she added that many people did take advantage of earlier flu clinics this year.
"When we knew we were going to be delayed in getting the H1N1 vaccine, we encouraged people at the end of the summer to get their seasonal flu vaccine first," Howard said.
The health department also reported Tuesday that influenzalike activity throughout the state has decreased for the second week in a row. However, flu activity is still considered widespread, and the H1N1 influenza virus has claimed another life.
Howard announced that a 35-year-old Morris County man died from the H1N1 influenza virus on November 16. The state does not know if the man had any underlying medical conditions.
So far, 29 people throughout the state have died from complications related to the H1N1, or "swine flu," virus.
The H1N1 vaccine is becoming more widely available. So far, the state has received 1.4 million doses, and only about 83,000 doses remain on back order, which should be filled within the next week, according to Dr. Susan Walsh, deputy commissioner of DHSS public health services.
As of Tuesday, the vaccine is only available for people who are at the greatest risk of health problems related to the H1N1 virus. Those groups include pregnant women, people taking care of children younger than 6 months, health care and emergency services workers, anyone ages 6 months to 24 years, and anyone ages 25 to 64 with an underlying medical condition.
The state is waiting until they have reached as many of those high-priority patients as possible before making the vaccine available to anyone else who does not fall into those groups.
"As we hold the clinics ... we will have a better idea of whether everybody who wants the vaccine has received it," Walsh said.
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