Get your ’flu shots early: health unit

After seeing a series of influenza immunization clinics carry on for three to four months last winter, the Northwestern Health Unit is hoping the public will get their shots earlier this year.
“We saw what happened last year,” said Cindy McKinnon, the public health nurse heading up this year’s ’flu shot campaign, noting the health unit doubled the number of ’flu vaccinations administered in 2002-03, but didn’t wrap up its universal influenza immunization program—which began last October—until this past January.
“We’re encouraging the public to get their ’flu shots early,” she added. “We’ll be holding the clinics in late October and throughout November.”
McKinnon said the reason why is not only to prevent the spread of the influenza virus as early as possible, but because the health unit has plenty of other programs to carry out in addition to the ’flu shot campaign, such as its vaccination initiatives in schools and outlying communities.
She added details, such as how many doses of influenza vaccine will be shipped to the health unit this year, as well as the exact dates and times for the public ’flu shots clinics, still are being determined at this point.
But McKinnon did say she knows which three viral strains the vaccine will contain—A/New Caledonia, A/Wyoming (which is like the A Fujian strain prevalent last winter), and B/Jiangsu (which is like the B Shanghai strain).
The health unit is responsible for acting as a central vaccine depot for the Rainy River and Kenora districts, distributing it to hospitals, long-term care centres, correctional facilities, and clinics.
The health unit distributed roughly 34,500 doses of the vaccine across the Kenora-Rainy River districts last year, and itself administered a total of 13,000 shots (4,600 of these were given in Fort Frances, Emo, Rainy River, and Atikokan).
McKinnon noted it’s quite possible the health unit will administer as many ’flu shots as last year—both because of an ever-increasing number of serious cases of the ’flu being reported in the media last winter, and the fact the Canadian Pediatric Society recently recommended children over the age of six months should receive a vaccination against influenza before the coming ’flu season.
This recommendation was a reaction to growing number of infants hospitalized with severe symptoms of influenza last winter, said McKinnon, adding, “The vaccinations hopefully will help keep more children out of the hospital.”
Parents and guardians of healthy children over the age of six months are encouraged to bring them out for vaccinations at the public immunization clinics next month, she noted.
Like all children under nine years of age who have not received the ’flu vaccine in previous years, they will require two doses—with an interval of four weeks between shots.
All people over six months of age are eligible to receive the publicly-funded ’flu shots. Because ’flu viruses mutate each year, everyone is encouraged to get one on an annual basis.
For a full schedule of locations, dates, and times, keep an eye open for ads in future editions of the Times and Daily Bulletin.
The Fort Frances Clinic also will be holding ’flu shot clinics starting next month.
< *c>More free shots
In related news, McKinnon noted the local health unit is offering publicly-funded vaccinations against chicken pox and meningitis to children who were one-year-old as of Sept. 1, 2004.
While not mandatory, children who fit this criteria are eligible for free meningitis and chicken pox shots at the health unit, and their parents or guardians can make appointments right now.
McKinnon said this two-pronged, publicly-funded vaccination program will be expanded on Jan. 1. At that time, all five-year-olds who haven’t yet had the chicken pox will be eligible to get a free shot for it while youth 12 years old and age 15-19 will be eligible to get the free meningitis vaccine.
The latter also will be offered in school-based clinics.
She stressed neither of these vaccinations are not mandatory, and are at the discretion of the parent or guardian.