Province opening up flu vaccine program to everyone

Diane
Diane Crocker
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Dr. David Allison

CORNER BROOK  Predicting just how the influenza season will go is something that Dr. David Allison said is difficult to do.

It’s for that reason that health authorities around the province and the Department of Health and Community Services put a lot of effort in following the flu not just locally, but across the country.

“We’re watching for outbreaks in various areas, particularly nursing homes or closed settings, and obviously we’re watching the availability of vaccine,” said Allison, medical officer of health for Eastern Health and acting medical officer of health for Western Health, on Friday afternoon.

Just after speaking with Allison the Department of Health issued a press release to advise it was once again expanding its vaccination program.

As of Monday influenza vaccinations will be available to anyone who wants to receive one. The department has acquired an additional 13,000 does of vaccine, that includes both an  injectable form and the FluMist nasal spray.

Approximately 140,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have already been vaccinated. Just this past week about 940 people in the western region took advantage of vaccination clinics in a number of communities.

“I think part of it is the hype that goes along with the media stories about influenza,” said Allison of the reason people are just now choosing to get vaccinated.

Allison said as the province moves into the middle of its expected influenza season health officials are seeing cases of both influenza A and B. He said influenza A tends to be the predominant strain, but noted the incidents of influenza B are mostly being seen in western and central Newfoundland.

This mix of the viruses is not unexpected and Allison said the vaccine provided to people carries protection against two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus.

And while the predominant strain of influenza A is H1N1, Allison said people shouldn’t be scared.

An H1N1 pandemic hit the province in 2009-2010 and back then Allison said it was a relatively unknown virus type.

“Now it’s been around for that number of years. It’s been a part of the vaccine program for a number of years and broadly speaking it’s part of the seasonal flu. We expect that this would be around.”

Allison said the number of cases of the flu being tracked by the province this year are about on average for a typical flu season.

As of Friday the Department of  Health reported 260 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza. Statistics also show there have been 51 hospitalizations, 15 admissions to intensive care, and three confirmed deaths. The most recent death was in a person in their 70s with an underlying illness. Of the individuals hospitalized, 27 have already been discharged.

During the same period last year there were 453 cases of influenza, 150 hospitalizations, 17 admissions to intensive care and nine deaths.  

Allison said last year H3N2 was the predominant strain. “And it affected people a lot earlier and in larger numbers than the strain we’re seeing this year.”

Western Health is advising people interested in getting vaccinated to call their local public health nursing office or family doctor office.

In addition to that the health authority will be holding walk-in vaccination clinics on Monday in Corner Brook at the Salvation Army, 1 Citadel Dr., from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and in Port Saunders at the public health nursing office in the Rufus Guinchard Health Centre, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Three Cs to prevent the spread of influenza:

— Clean and wash your hands

— Cover coughs and sneezes

— Contain your illness by staying home

Source: Department of Health and Community Services

Organizations: Department of Health and Community, Salvation Army, Rufus Guinchard Health Centre

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Port Saunders

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