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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2005

State health officials OK expanded eligibility list


Ohio Department of Health officials said yesterday that health providers in the state have their blessing on expanding the list of those eligible for flu shots.

Under the state's new guidelines, those eligible now include people 50 and older - instead of 65 and older - and those in close contact with a high-risk individual.

The expanded guidelines apply only when vaccine providers feel they've been able to vaccinate most of their high-risk population as defined by previous guidelines.

The vaccine guidelines are voluntary, but many vaccine providers have paid close attention to the state's advice.

On top of the newly released guidelines, those in a high-risk group include children aged less than 2 years old, pregnant women, health-care workers involved in direct patient care, residents of long-term care facilities, and people of any age who have certain underlying health conditions, such as heart or lung disease, transplant recipients, or people with AIDS.

The more relaxed restrictions do not mean flu vaccine is suddenly more available. There are still many physicians offices' without vaccine. But it's getting near to the point where getting a flu shot is no longer worth it.

The flu season usually starts in January, and it takes about two weeks after vaccination for a flu shot to take effect.

Federal authorities expanded the list of those eligible for flu shots on Monday, but said each state should decide on its own whether to follow suit.

Michigan already has broadened its high-risk categories, and many hospitals and physicians offices' also have loosened their restrictions.

Kristopher Weiss, a spokesman for the Ohio health department, said state officials are still asking those who are otherwise healthy and not in a high-risk group to not get a flu shot this year.

But, in areas where enough vaccine is available, those 50 and older, including those in contact with high-risk individuals, can get shots.

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