These past few months, we have often said that it takes a village to vaccinate. Indeed, we learned that it takes an entire village to vaccinate, as well as to fully respond to the threat of a pandemic.
Since last spring we have seen an unprecedented outpouring to assure Mainers are protected against the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic and have access to the vaccine.
Maine’s successes in addressing the H1N1 pandemic have been primarily due to the partnerships and work of the people in our health system, schools, emergency management system, businesses, government at all levels and many others. I am extremely grateful for this work and dedication of many across our state.
However, our work is not complete. Although the course of the pandemic is very unpredictable, the virus will clearly continue to circulate for months if not years to come. Even this past month Maine has seen 11 people from across the state hospitalized, including four children. One of these hospitalized was a young adult who also tragically died from the disease.
The best tool to protect against the H1N1 pandemic is vaccine. We urge everyone to seek vaccination.
As of late January, an estimated 70 million Americans have received the H1N1 influenza vaccine. Made the same way as seasonal influenza vaccine and by the same manufacturers, the H1N1 vaccine is safe and effective, similar to the seasonal flu vaccine.
The H1N1 vaccine is especially recommended for those at high risk for severe disease: all children and young adults ages 6 months through 24 years old; pregnant women; and people with underlying chronic medical conditions. Because they can pass the disease on to those at high risk for severe complications, the vaccine is also highly recommended for health care workers and those who care for or who have close contact with infants under 6 months.
Seniors should get vaccinated. Many people 65 years old and older have some background immunity to H1N1. However, if they contract the infection, they are at risk for complications.
Everyone should consider getting vaccinated. Pandemic strains of influenza are highly transmissible, passing from one person to another very quickly. So, even if you are not at high risk for complications, you can easily transmit the virus to those with whom you live or work who may be at higher risk. Additionally, a significant portion of people who have been hospitalized or who died from H1N1 nationally were not considered at high risk for complications.
People from across Maine are traveling to Bangor for basketball tournaments. Thanks to a partnership between Penobscot and Piscataquis county health care providers, businesses, public health organizations and volunteer organizations, there will be opportunities to get vaccinated for free while visiting the city. There are also still public clinics in other parts of the state. You can find these opportunities for getting vaccinated by calling 211 or by checking www.maineflu.gov.
We urge everyone visiting Bangor for basketball tournaments to take advantage of this opportunity to get vaccinated.
And, don’t forget to stay home if you’re sick, cover coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands often! Together, we can make sure Maine stays healthy.
Dora Anne Mills, M.D., MPH, FAAP, is Maine’s state health officer and director of the Maine CDC-DHHS.