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Hundreds brave the cold in search of free H1N1 vaccinations Tuesday

Ray Stewart, of Park Rapids, receives an H1N1 vaccination from Carin Shepersky, Registered Nurse for St. Joseph's Area Health Services. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

About 640 people were given H1N1 vaccinations at a free clinic Tuesday.

"We probably gave 200 vaccinations in the first hour," said Amy Morris, public health nurse with St. Joseph's Area Health Services.

People were lined up about 10:15 a.m. outside St. Peter the Apostle Church, waiting for the doors to open at 11. After the first hour, there was a steady flow of people for the rest of the day, volunteers said.

The free vaccination clinic was for everyone ages 4 and over.

"The federal government is giving out the vaccine for free for everyone," Morris said.

Ray Stewart, of Park Rapids, had been waiting for a free clinic so he could get an H1N1 shot. He needed it, he said.

Eleven nurses (nine from St. Joseph's and two from Innovis Health), two home health aid staff from St. Joseph's and five volunteers worked to ensure a successful clinic.

More than 1,200 vaccinations were available and Morris said another free H1N1 clinic might be held in mid-January. The Minnesota Department of Health gave the go ahead to open H1N1 vaccinations to the general public given ample availability of the vaccine.

H1N1 shots, along with the mist, were available at the clinic. Second doses were available for children ages 9 and under. It is recommended that this age group receive two doses of the H1N1, but there should be at least 21 days, or ideally 28 days before the second dose.

Patients and children under age 4 can also get their H1N1 vaccination by calling Innovis Health for an appointment. Dosages for the very young are different, and many of them have already been targeted during previous clinics, which is why they weren't included in Tuesday's clinic.

Although there appears to be little to no activity of the H1N1 virus or influenza-like outbreaks in Hubbard County, and the "second wave" of H1N1 has diminished significantly according to reports from St. Joseph's and area clinics, officials say it is still important that everyone get the vaccine.

"The emphasis is to try to get everyone vaccinated to help disrupt the flow of the virus to the public," said Dr. Larry Leadbetter, St. Joseph's/Innovis Health Internal Medicine, Infection Prevention Medical Advisor, in a recent news release.

A third round of H1N1 wave could hit, and the medical community is additionally watching a sub-strain or mutation of the H1N1 virus, which presents itself in a slightly mutated form. This strain may be more difficult to diagnose and possibly to treat since it may be more resistant.

St. Joseph's Community Health continues to manage the local flu hotline at 237-5611. Information about upcoming vaccination clinic times and dates will be available by calling the hotline.