Vaccinations now available to all

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Norwegian health authorities have started offering swine flu vaccinations to the general population, just as the country marked its 16th death from the disease. The virus is spreading in epidemic proportions but officials claim it’s under control.

The latest swine flu victim was a young boy from Oslo who died at Ullevål University Hospital over the weekend. He was considered to be part of the group at high risk because of a chronic illness.

Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen claimed the general vaccination program was functioning well after starting up on Monday. By the end of the week, she said almost everyone in the high-risk group will have been offered the vaccine while healthy Norwegians would be getting vaccinations as well.

The number of persons seriously ill with swine flu, meanwhile, was flattening out, reported newspaper Aftenposten . Hospitals reported no increase in admissions linked to swine flu and officials said the vaccinations begun two weeks ago were already working.

Health officials conceded that the vaccinations themselves can result in flu-like side-effects including headache, nausea and fever, but they’re not considered serious.

A health ministry decision to make the Tamiflu medicine available without a prescription was also labelled a success. Pharmacies around Norway have sold nearly 100,000 packages of the medicine so far and think it’s helping flu-sick Norwegians get well at home. Around 330,000 persons are expected to have been infected with the disease so far this year.

Strøm-Erichsen noted that vaccination programs still vary from township to township because they’re organized under local control. “Some have nurses giving the vaccine, others offer the vaccine through primary physicians,” she said. “We will evaluate the programs and learn from this.”

She said she was still greeting people with handshakes and hugs like before but continued to be careful to wash her hands frequently. “I always have a little bottle of disinfectant with me, to use when there’s no water around,” she said.

More information on the state vaccination programs is available atwww.pandemi.no.