Incidents of ’flu down this winter: Sarsfield

Five months after the Northwestern Health Unit initiated its universal influenza immunization program for the second year in a row, Dr. Pete Sarsfield said “maybe” as to whether the program is as effective as intended.
“The bad news is there is no way of knowing,” noted the CEO and medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit.
“I can say that since the universal ’flu shot program started two years ago, Ontario has had the lowest number of influenza cases reported in all of Canada,” Dr. Sarsfield remarked.
“But then, there has been fewer influenza incidents across Canada, too.”
Dr. Sarsfield said the only way to determine whether an immunization program is working is to look at statistical trends.
“And two years does not a trend make,” he stressed. “After the first year, we thought the lower numbers could mean it’s a fluke.
“After two years, it’s less likely a fluke. And if the trend continues, it’s likely we’ll be able to say it is, indeed, effective,” Dr. Sarsfield said.
“[But] until we can determine that, the only downside to this is people are questioning whether they really need to get a shot at all, and that factors into why our immunization numbers are down a bit.”
In the Kenora-Rainy River districts, a total of 11,420 doses of vaccine were administered from October, 2000-February, 2001. As of Jan. 18 of this year, only 9,480 doses had been given out.
The two municipalities showing the greatest dip in immunizations were Dryden and Kenora, where there were 625 and 671 fewer shots given out, respectively.
But some other communities’ immunization numbers are much closer to what they were a year ago. For instance, the health unit gave 1,447 ’flu shots to Fort Frances residents last year as compared to 1,439 this year—a difference of only eight people.
And others, like Rainy River, Sioux Lookout, and Ear Falls, actually saw a boost in the number of residents getting ’flu shots.
Dr. Sarsfield noted these numbers don’t include the vaccinations administered by its community partners, such as the Fort Frances Clinic, Fort Frances Jail, Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc., Rainycrest Home for the Aged, and Abitibi-Consolidated.
But those numbers are generally down, too, he admitted.
Numbers for the percentage of health care workers who were immunized—one of the health unit’s target group with its vaccination campaign—will be released by the health unit next week, public health nurse Cindy McKinnon said.
Even though it might not yet be easy to say how well the universal ’flu shot program is working, Dr. Sarsfield said he expects the program to have a long life ahead of it.
“I know the other provinces are looking at it. And I’d expect them to start their own universal ’flu shot campaigns in the near future,” he remarked.