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Health unit gearing up for ’flu shot clinics

FORT FRANCES—With fall now here and snowbirds booking their plans to head south, the Northwestern Health Unit is getting ready for its annual ’flu shot clinics to start next month.

“At this point, we’re hoping to receive the vaccine in the middle of October,’” said Cindy McKinnon, program manager for infectious disease, who added health unit staff had a teleconference with the Ministry of Health last week regarding this year’s influenza immunization program.

“We’ll start offering ’flu shots to our snowbirds the week of Oct. 22,” McKinnon remarked. “With that strong loonie, I’m sure people are going to be leaving earlier and staying later this year, so we want to make sure the snowbirds are protected.

“The following week, we’ll start our clinics for the general public, pending the arrival of the vaccine as promised,” she added.

The general theme for this year’s provincial immunization campaign is “Stop the spread of influenza. Get the shot yourself”—meaning the best way to fight the ’flu is to start with yourself.

“They’re targeting a new group this year—young women with young children six-23 months of age,” noted McKinnon.

“Healthy children in that age group are more at risk of hospitalization if they come down with influenza, so they’ve targeted the mothers to have themselves immunized and their children.

“And, of course, a child under six months isn’t eligible, so if the mother’s immunized, they can stop the spread to the child,” she reasoned.

As in past years, the province also is targeting people age 65 and over, as well as those under 65 with chronic medical problems. Those with medical problems are at higher risk of developing serious complications of influenza.

Health-care providers and volunteers in health-care institutions are most likely to transmit the virus to the high-risk population, so they also are considered to be a priority group for influenza immunizations.

The health unit is responsible for keeping track of coverage rates for staff at hospitals, as well as staff and residents at long-term care facilities.

McKinnon said the number vaccinations was down slightly from the winter before—and she’d like to see that change this year.

“We encourage people to get their ’flu shot,” she stressed. “We had a later season last year, and I think that some people feel if they don’t get the ’flu shot in October, that it’s too late.

“That’s one of the messages we’re going to use in local campaign is that it’s not too late,” McKinnon said. “You can still get a ’flu shot in November and December and be protected into the spring, because we’ve seen the illness pushing later into the year—March, April.”

The three viral strains the vaccine contains this year are: A/Solomon Islands, A/Wisconsin, and B/Malaysia. The first strain replaced the A/New Caledonia, which had been part of the vaccine for the past couple of years.

Besides administering the vaccine at appointment-only and public clinics, the health unit also is responsible for acting as a central vaccine depot for the Rainy River and Kenora districts, distributing it to hospitals, long-term care centres, correctional facilities, and clinics.

All people over six months of age are eligible to receive the publicly-funded ’flu shot. Because ’flu viruses mutate each year, everyone is encouraged to get one on an annual basis, said McKinnon.

The only exceptions are people who’ve had an anaphylactic reaction to eggs or one of the other components in the vaccine, an adverse reaction to a previous ’flu shot, or who’ve been advised by their physicians to avoid getting one.

For more information, call 274-9827 or www.nwhu.on.ca

A complete schedule of immunization clinics will be published in the Fort Frances Times closer to the date the clinics start.

The Fort Frances Clinic, Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, and Dr. C.M. Moorhouse’s practice also are expected to offer ’flu shots to residents this fall.

(Fort Frances Times)

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