Fewer people getting ’flu shots this season

Duane Hicks

Like other parts of Ontario, the Northwestern Health Unit is reporting ’flu shot numbers have been lower than usual since its immunization campaign began in mid-October.
“It’s a bit slow,” Donna Stanley, manager of infectious diseases, said during an interview last week.
“We’re probably in line with the rest of the province,” she added, estimating immunization numbers for the Rainy River and Kenora districts are 75 percent of what they were at this time last year.
“I am not really sure of the reason for that, but there just seems to be a little bit less interest in ’flu shots this year,” noted Stanley.
“I am not sure if that’s because we haven’t had much disease around yet, or because everybody got a little tired hearing about it last year.”
Starting last year, the health unit changed the way it advertised its ’flu shot campaign.
Instead of publishing a ’flu shot clinic schedule in the local newspaper, for example, they’ve been encouraging the public to visit their website at www.nwhu.on.ca or call the health unit’s toll-free number (1-866-468-2240) to get the latest information on ’flu shot clinics in their area.
When asked if this may have affected people’s knowledge of where or when they could get their ’flu shots this year, Stanley said that’s something the health unit is trying to assess.
“What we discovered last year was using the newspaper isn’t useful putting schedules in when you have information coming at you quickly,” she noted, referring to last year’s H1N1 campaign when immunization information could change day to day.
“One of mandates of the health unit is to prepare our communities for an emergency, and ’flu is one of our opportunities, probably our only opportunity, to connect with pretty much everybody in the community on something that’s disease-related,” Stanley explained.
“So, we want to take the opportunity of the annual ’flu campaign to help people use information sources that they can get at quickly.
“We want to use the paper to advertise they should be thinking about ’flu, but we’re trying to direct people to our website and toll-free numbers to call for timings,” she added.
Stanley said some people have found this inconvenient this year, but it was done to familiarize people with using the aforementioned “quick access.”
“That is something people have had a bit of a hard time understanding . . . but we would really like to keep doing that in the interest of directing them there so that if we had any kind of an emergency, people would know that’s where they go for health unit-type emergency information,” she remarked.
While it’s apparent some aren’t eager to get a ’flu shot, Stanley said the health unit definitely is encouraging residents to get theirs sooner than later.
“If people are going to be travelling, that would be a good reason to come in soon, because if you’re travelling within Canada, you might be either giving it to vulnerable relatives that you’re going to see, new babies, or elderly people in the households that you’re visiting,” she warned.
“And if you’re going on vacation, you don’t really want to get the ’flu while you’re away.”
Stanley noted ’flu season usually peaks between Christmas and February.
“So the fact that we haven’t seen much in the way of illness activity doesn’t mean it isn’t coming,” she stressed.
“It takes about two weeks before you get full immunity from a shot,” added Stanley. “Having it helps, regardless. . . .
“If I had got my shot today and I get exposed in two days, it actually does help. But it doesn’t help as much as it would of if I had it two weeks ago.”
While the local health unit wrapped up its walk-in clinics last month, the public can continue to make an appointment to get a ’flu shot.
The next appointment-only clinic in Fort Frances is slated Friday, Dec. 17. Call 1-800-461-3348 to book an appointment.
People who have been identified by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care as being at the highest risk of influenza include:
•adults and children with chronic health conditions;
•all pregnant women;
•all children under five years;
•all residents of long-term care and chronic care homes;
•people age 65 and older;
•people who are morbidly obese;
•all aboriginal people; and
•family members and those who provide care for people in the high-risk group
As in the past, the vaccine is free to Ontario residents over six months of age.
The influenza vaccine this year contains the strains A/California (H1N1), A/Perth, and B/Brisbane.
The H1N1 vaccine, which was administered as a separate shot last ’flu season, now is one of the three strains in the regular shot.