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Vaccination program ‘ambitious’ in scope

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The province’s move to provide universal vaccination for the flu bug is getting a thumbs up from the Northwestern Health Unit.

Elizabeth Witmer, minister of Health and Long-Term Care, announced $38 million would be invested to provide 7.9 million units of influenza vaccine for the general public this fall.

Ken Allan, infectious disease control team leader at the health unit here, said it looks like a very ambitious program.

“You’ll recall last year when there was a lot of influenza in our community,” Allan said. “Having a higher coverage rate for the vaccine will do a number of things--it will take pressure off clinics and acute care facilities, and it also will make it easier to staff hospitals.

“From a public health perspective, I think this is a good move,” he said.

Last year, the province provided public funding for the vaccine to what are considered high-risk groups. It included those over 65, children six months to 18 years-old, anyone with chronic heart, lung or kidney disease, cancer patients, diabetics, those with blood disorders or immune problems, and health care and emergency service workers.

But that wasn’t enough to prevent clinics and emergency rooms from being filled with influenza patients.

“We’re planning to alleviate pressures emergency rooms face during flu season,” Witmer said.

“Influenza immunization is the most effective means of prevention we have,” Allan echoed.

Exactly when the province will deliver this vaccine to the public hasn’t been said yet. However, the minister has made it clear the program is to start this fall.

“The health unit handles the publicly-funded vaccine,” Allan said. “This vaccine would [then] probably be available at your doctors office or some occupational health programs would have the vaccine accessible.”

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