Free flu shots expanded
Flu shot clinics are up and running in the Tri-Cities, and the Fraser Health Authority is encouraging everyone to get immunized against this year's virus.
"We're just getting into the flu season and the vaccine has just become available and is being distributed to physicians, hospitals and...public health units," said Dr. Mark Bigham, the Fraser Health medical health officer.
Officials are anticipating this year's virus will contain the same H1N1 strain from the 2009 pandemic, as well as two new components: the H3N2-Victoria and Influenza B-Wisconsin. (The strains are commonly named after the place where they're first identified, with Victoria referring to the state in Australia.)
The number of groups eligible for a flu shot has been expanded this year to include children between six months and up to five years old and their household contacts and caregivers. Last year, two-thirds of the children who were hospitalized with the flu were under the age of five.
But Bigham urged everyone to get the flu shot, regardless of whether they're eligible for the free vaccine.
"It's still the most effective way to prevent" the spread of the flu, he said. "It's a very safe, very well tolerated vaccine and...we're really trying to encourage people to be vaccinated."
It's too early to say how serious this year's flu will be, Bigham added, but in a typical year a quarter of the population will get the flu and 20,000 Canadians will be hospitalized; about 5,000 die annually.
Some who survive a serious bout with the flu end up needing permanent care.
"It's a huge negative impact on the health of Canadians," Bigham said.
Those eligible for the free shot are:
• People 65 years and over, and their caregivers
• Children and adults with chronic health issues and their household contacts
• Health care workers and emergency responders
• Healthy children aged six months to under five years (new)
• Household contacts and caregivers of infants and children under five years (new)
• Pregnant women who will be in their third trimester during flu season
• Residents of nursing homes and chronic care facilities
• Poultry farm workers
• Aboriginal peoples
• People who are very overweight
• Corrections officers and inmates
• People in potential outbreak settings (ie crew on ships)
People who want to get a flu shot can contact their doctor or check with their local pharmacy.
Upcoming clinics in the Tri-Cities are as follows:
• Coquitlam Centre Mall (2929 Barnet Hwy.) — Nov. 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Dogwood Pavilion (624 Poirier St.) — Nov. 20, 9 to 11:30 a.m., call 604-949-7200 for an appointment
• Glen Pine Pavilion (1200 Glen Pine Court) — Nov. 29, 9 a.m. to noon, call 604-949-7200 for an appointment
• Leigh Square Community Arts Village (2253 Leigh Square) — Nov. 13, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Nov. 19, 1 to 6:30 p.m.
B.C. has halted the use of the Novartis flu vaccine following a Health Canada recommendation.
Novartis vaccines, which produces the Agriflu and Fluad vaccine products, have also been suspended in Europe. The precautionary suspension comes after reports of small clumping material noticed in the vaccines in Italy.
There have been no adverse effects related to the vaccines, reports B.C.'s Ministry of Health.
Novartis products represent about 30% of B.C.'s flu vaccine supply, meaning 70% of the province's stock is unaffected by the suspension.
The health ministry stated there have been no safety concerned identified in the vaccines used so far, and people who have already received their shots should not worry.