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Health officials in West Michigan encourage flu vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Already, doctors are saying it's shaping up to be a nasty flu season in Michigan.

Health officials are asking colleges to help them stop the spread.

The H1N1 strain of the flu is spreading quickly nationwide.

Thursday night, Borgess Medical Center announced it is temporarily limiting visitors to help protect both patients and staff.

Michigan ranks among the worst in the country when it comes to vaccination rates.

In Kent County alone, there are 324 confirmed cases, and many--if not all--could have been prevented.

As the peak of flu season approaches, more and more people are rushing to get the vaccine.

"I'm encouraged that Kent County continues to be a leader in getting the word out," said Mary Wisinski, the immunization supervisor with the Kent County Health Department.

She says pushing the message of prevention through doctors offices and pharmacies, along with TV and radio and websites is what's getting people to ask for it.

Walgreens pharmacist Robin Curtis says lately she's seen a huge rush for the drug, but that doesn't mean everyone is hearing the message.

In fact, nationwide, Michigan ranks among the lowest numbers for those getting the vaccine.

The national average is 45 percent, and Wisinski says those numbers are simply not good enough.

"We have a lot of work to do on many fronts, people today are questioning vaccines, they're questioning their safety, they're questioning their necessity," Wisinski said.

And she says there are all kinds of excuses.

"'I don't need that, I've never had the flu,' is one thing I hear from people," she said. "Second thing I hear is, 'I got a flu shot and it gave me the flu.'"

"YOu cannot get the flu from the shot," she explained. "It is an inactive virus; you cannot get influenza from the flu shot; now you may feel tired after you get it or have a sore arm the next day; those are common side effects."

Overall, Wisinski says the best thing we can do as a state is to keep pushing the message of prevention, because she says there's no reason not to get vaccinated.

The Michigan Department of Community Health says they are concerned about the low numbers of people getting the shot, but they are trying to get the word out everywhere they can, hoping it will eventually raise that number.

For more on the flu, immunizations, and more, click here.