Health unit asking province for break on vaccines

With the province-wide ’flu immunization program starting here Oct. 22, the Northwestern Health Unit once again will be administering the shots–but not without paying a price.
“Our problem is that the funding is at the same level as last year,” Dr. Peter Sarsfield, medical officer and CEO of the Northwestern Health Unit, said Tuesday.
“We get $5 a shot–that money goes towards advertising, travel costs, etc. If we look at it, without factoring in the wages of workers, it actually costs us about $6.50 a shot,” he noted.
“If we factor in the staff wages, it’s up to $11.50.
“This, of course, means we have to rob from other programs. We’ve made pleas to the province but so far they’ve said no,” remarked Dr. Sarsfield, adding the program is “central, classic public health care” which must be carried through.
Meanwhile, Ken Allan, team leader for infectious disease control, said the health unit is gearing up for this year’s immunization campaign.
“The health unit administered 11,000 vaccines last year. And 20,000 doses were given to other health care providers,” he noted. “This year, we would like to do better.”
Like last year, the health unit will be holding vaccination clinics at both its office on Scott Street and some elementary schools across the district from Oct. 22-Nov. 22.
Check for ads in the Oct. 17 and 24 editions of the Times for the full clinic schedule.
While almost anyone over six months of age can get a free ’flu shot, the province is stressing one of the highest priority groups is health-care workers, said Allan.
“I think the staff at our long-term care facilities were excellent last year but the hospitals could see improvement,” he noted.
“Among the long-term workers and health unit staff, we saw fewer absences last year,” echoed Dr. Sarsfield.
“The ones we’re having trouble with is the hospitals. Some staff are saying ‘no’ [to the ’flu shots] but I say that’s reprehensible,” he argued, noting staffing was down by as much as 40 percent at Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora during the ’flu season last year.
Allan said the reasoning behind the “universal ’flu shot” campaign is simple. “A few years ago, the acute care system got jammed up with patients and the staff got affected as well, leaving everybody sick,” he noted.
“And there’s the economic impact,” added Allan, referring not only to the province encouraging ’flu shots for the public but individual businesses hiring private companies to immunize staff to reduce sick days and thus save money.