For the first time in Minnesota people of all ages will be able to get an H1N1 vaccination.
Next Saturday, a mass public clinic will be held in Roseville. The St. Paul-Ramsey County Department of Public Health said it has 15,000 doses of vaccine on the way and it doesn't want them to go unused.
The mass vaccination defies guidelines put out by the Minnesota Department of Health that reserve the vaccine supplies for children, health care providers, infant caretakers and people with health conditions.
St. Paul-Ramsey Public Health Director Rob Fulton said he thought long and hard about expanding his agency's public vaccination clinic to include everyone.
He said just the other day he got a call from a clinic that wanted to know if it could expand its vaccination effort to include more people. The clinic had over 300 doses of H1N1 vaccine but only 20 or so patients from their priority groups had expressed interest in receiving it.
Fulton said he's heard similar stories from many other clinics in Ramsey County.
"Our talking to our clinics is that they're, I mean they're putting it into people as they come in, but they aren't having a great demand for it," Fulton said. "And maybe there's just too much out in Ramsey County. I don't know."
Fulton said he was initially worried that he would have 15,000 doses of vaccine available at his clinic next weekend and perhaps only 2,000 or 3,000 people would show up. He admits that the risk now is that the clinic could be being overrun with people seeking the vaccine, but he said that's a good problem to have.
He's less certain however about how the decision will affect relations with the Minnesota Department of Health. St. Paul-Ramsey's decision to expand its clinic has not been sanctioned by the Department. Fulton said repercussions seem unlikely.
"Are they not going to give us vaccine because we're going to do broader? If they do, if they insist we only do it, then I don't need 15,000 doses that's for sure," Fulton said.
Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious diseases at the Health Department, said there's nothing her agency can do to stop St. Paul-Ramsey's public clinic. But, she's not happy that the local health department is publicizing its decision to vaccinate everyone who wants it.
"Perhaps the best way to put it is I wish they could have just waited on their press release just a little bit longer," Ehresmann said. "That probably would be my only wish."
Ehresmann said she recognizes that some local health departments feel they have enough vaccine and are eager to open up their clinics to more people. But she said many others are not which confuses the message to the public.
She also said it's not true that all clinics in Ramsey County have enough vaccine.
"They likely did not call all of the clinics that we have on our list, that are the providers that serve some of the high-risk adults, because we do have several hundred providers who are still needing thousands of doses of vaccine at this point and haven't gotten anything," she said.
Since St. Paul-Ramsey's public clinic is still more than a week away, it's possible that it will coincide with an easing of the state's vaccination restrictions anyway. Ehresmann said her Department is getting very close to being able to open up the vaccination campaign to everyone. She said St. Paul-Ramsey's actions will add to the pressure on the agency to speed up that decision.
"We may be able to open it up soon and so the timing of this may be just one of those things where a day or two would make all the difference in the world," Ehresmann said.
St. Paul-Ramsey's H1N1 vaccination clinic will be held from noon till 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, at the North Heights Christian Academy in Roseville.