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Ontario prepares for difficult flu season

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TORONTO—This year's flu season will likely be a bad one, Ontario's health minister said yesterday, and the province is stocking up on extra high-strength vaccines in preparation.

“We expect that it's going to be a very difficult year,” Christine Elliott said after an unrelated announcement.

“Based on what's happening in Australia we sort of take a look at what's likely to happen in Ontario.”

Australian health authorities are reporting an early flu season—unusually high activity for this time of year. Though the overall severity is reported as low, hospitalizations are three times what is normal for this time, and there have been more than 200 deaths so far, according to that country's department of health.

Ontario has already ordered 300,000 more doses of high-dose flu vaccines than last year, bringing the total order to 1.2 million doses, said a spokesman for Elliott.

That vaccine has four times the amount of antigens than the regular flu shot and is given to more vulnerable people, such as seniors. It can be provided in hospitals, long-term care homes and by primary care providers.

Elliott said it was proven particularly effective last year, and that the government will also be rolling out an advertising campaign, encouraging people to get the flu shot.

“It's really important to prevent it in the first place, but we also need to be prepared to deal with it when it does strike Ontario, both in terms of hospital care, home care and community care,” she said.

“We will be advertising to people that we want them to get out and get the flu shot and deal with some of the myths out there about getting the flu vaccine because . . . the anti-vaxer theory is out there as well as far as the flu vaccine is concerned, too.”

Elliott did not yet have a specific date when the flu shot will be available, but she said it will be well in advance of flu season.

Researchers reported early this year that the previous flu season's vaccine appeared to be highly effective.

The analysis by researchers with the Canadian Sentinel Practitioner Surveillance Network and published online in the journal Euro Surveillance, shows it was 72 percent effective in preventing infection with the H1N1 respiratory virus overall across all age groups.

In the 2018-19 flu season, 34 percent of adults in Canada aged 18-64 got the flu shot, and 70 percent of seniors got it, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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