H1N1 outbreak increases demand for seasonal flu vaccine

With the recent outbreak of H1N1, Albertans are flocking to local pharmacies and mass immunization clinics to get their seasonal flu shots

  • Jan. 9, 2014 7:00 p.m.

With the recent outbreak of H1N1, Albertans are flocking to local pharmacies and mass immunization clinics to get their seasonal flu shots, which this year also protect against H1N1.

That is a good thing, as 10 Albertans are now confirmed dead from H1N1 and about 300 have been hospitalized with another 40 in intensive care. Dr. James Talbot, chief medical officer for Alberta Health Services, said that few of the flu cases this season have been strains other than H1N1.

“Virtually all of the influenza we are seeing in the province this year is H1N1” said Talbot during a press conference this week.

Alberta Health orders its flu vaccine in February and ordered 1.1 million doses for this year’s flu season. Talbot said this is much more than last year’s order, from which there were leftover doses.

But Talbot also said that already this year, Alberta Health Services has vaccinated more people than it did in the entirety of last year’s flu season. To keep up with the demand, the department is getting two more shipments of the vaccine.

These vaccines were thought to be surplus to what was needed in Italy and so have been secured for use in Alberta, said Talbot.

He added that these shipments include, “The last vaccines on the planet.”

Pharmacies have been terrific partners in administering the vaccinations, said Talbot. He said use of pharmacies has about doubled since last year and they have administered a third of the vaccines in the province.

However, as demand for the vaccine has been high, some pharmacies may not be stocked at all times.

Talbot recommended contacting local pharmacies beforehand to check on how much vaccine is available or to even make appointments where possible.

While it is true that pharmacies have been a go-to for many Albertans seeking the vaccine, Talbot said that the focus now will be on mass immunization clinics other than individual pharmacies.

He said it is too difficult to manage the system with 1,500 points of entry. Talbot added he is still proud of what the current system has accomplished so far.

“I’d like to emphasize that, as a system, we’re really proud of the work that has been done,” said Talbot. “Pharmacies have stepped up and given us a surge capacity that we didn’t have before.”

Talbot added that with bringing the vaccine to more central areas the hope is to vaccinate as many people as possible and minimize frustrations of people who go to get immunized but can’t due to insufficient stock of the vaccine.

“Our supplies are not infinite,” said Talbot. “But we believe that by bringing it to more central locations we will be able to decrease the annoyance of showing up some place and not getting the vaccine.”

At this point, over 23% of Alberta’s population has been vaccinated, said Talbot. He added that if trends continue there will be a “historic high” of immunizations by the end of the season.

There are other ways to protect yourself from contracting H1N1 or any other strain of influenza. As with any disease, hygiene is very important in protecting yourself.

Talbot advocated for hand washing, disposing of tissues after blowing your nose and staying home if you or someone in your family is sick.

Of those who have died in the outbreak of the disease, Talbot said there is a “mixed bag” when it comes to the health and age of the deceased.

He said the age ranges from 18 to 64, some with healthy immune systems and others with pre-existing conditions.

This year’s seasonal flu vaccine protects against other strains of influenza as well, but health officials are saying that H1N1 is the primary concern at this time.

Albertans will be familiar with the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

According to a Government of Alberta report, there were a total of 6,298 cases of H1N1 in the pandemic year. Of these cases, 1,214 patients were hospitalized and 60 died.

Vaccinations are available at the Lacombe Community Health Centre and various pharmacies in Lacombe and Blackfalds.

To find locations in your area administering the vaccine, visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/influenza.asp.

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