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Patients have streamed into the Grady County Health Department this week, after state health officials announced Monday that all Oklahomans are now eligible for the swine flu (H1N1) vaccination.

Mike Milton, administrative director of the county health department, said there's been a revolving door at the center. As one patient leaves, another comes in for a shot or the nasal spray. He said they average 15-20 patients at a time. "It's increased the interest and...It's strictly a preventive measure," he said.

Vaccine supplies remain limited, but demand from priority groups has dipped to where all Oklahomans can get a vaccine. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) expects an additional 90,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine to be delivered to the state this week. The doses include both nasal spray and injectable vaccines.

“While we continue to emphasize the importance of vaccination for the priority groups, especially children and pregnant women, we are going to begin to vaccinate the general population,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley said. “Vaccination continues to be the best way to protect yourself from the H1N1 flu and slow the spread of this pandemic."

She said H1N1 infections have been widespread in Oklahoma since early September. However, statewide monitoring has shown a decline in influenza-linked hospitalizations. The virus is expected to circulate throughout the winter months, and could possibly resurge in the spring.

"There is a possibility that it may resurge, but nobody really knows," Milton said. "Hopefully it will continue to decline."

Since Sept. 1, 890 Oklahomans have been hospitalized due to complications from influenza and 33 people have died.

Ninety percent of the H1N1-related deaths have been people younger than 65 years old. This finding contrasts significantly with seasonal flu, which tends to cause the greatest proportion of deaths among persons older than 65 years. The best protection against getting the flu is to receive both the vaccine for H1N1 flu and seasonal flu.

Dr. Lydia Dennis, of Tuttle, took her three-year-old son, J.R., to get both vaccines. She said she as originally didn't know if she'd let her son take the shot, but the statistics of the pandemic worried her.

"The scary stuff is how the younger people are effected," she said.

With a couple more months lead time, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention could have put the swine flu into the seasonal vaccine, Milton said. The timing was off, and by the time H1N1 was declared a pandemic in April, it was too late to include it with the seasonal flu vaccines.

Seasonal flu vaccines are released in October of the previous year. With a burgeoning pandemic, health officials and the CDC scrambled to create the H1N1 vaccine, which took until October to reach the public

Supplies of the H1N1 vaccine remain limited and the state expects to continue to receive the vaccine through January.

For more information about the availability of H1N1 influenza vaccine, call the Grady County Health Department or visit www.health.ok.gov.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health toll-free H1N1 hotline is 1-866-278-7134.

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