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For Flu Prevention, MN Program Aims to End Disparities

The Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative has provided more than 80,000 free flu vaccinations since 2006 to people who might not otherwise have access to them. (DodgertonSkillhause/Morguefile)
The Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative has provided more than 80,000 free flu vaccinations since 2006 to people who might not otherwise have access to them. (DodgertonSkillhause/Morguefile)
December 18, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. - It's only mid-December, but states such as Minnesota have seen a fair amount of flu activity in the season's early going. That has kept a program especially busy that makes flu shots available in underserved communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minnesota is seeing "moderate to high" flu virus activity.

For people who choose to be vaccinated, said Ingrid Johansen, program director for the Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative, this time of year can be difficult in places where there aren't many providers.

"Data tends to show that it's really people who are lower income, minority communities, people with language barriers, that are less likely to be vaccinated," she said.

Through Fairview Health Services and a state-funded grant, Johansen oversees the initiative, which works with community groups to set up clinics where people can get free flu shots. For those who have other health concerns about vaccinations, health officials advise frequent hand washing and avoiding others who are sick.

In a normal flu season, the clinics provide from 5,000 to 6,000 vaccinations. But this year, they've already topped the 7,000 mark. Johansen said the program has made more connections and built trust at the community level. She said there's a misconception that it's easy for anyone one to get a flu shot at just about any provider or clinic -- but that isn't always the case.

"You may see all these advertisements for a 'free flu shot,' but very rarely is it actually free," she said. "It's only free if your insurance will cover it."

Johansen said their program, which is in its 13th year, requires no insurance information and provides the flu shots at no cost to recipients. The CDC will update its flu surveillance report weekly through the winter.

Details of the program are online at fairview.org, and the CDC data is at cdc.gov.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN