The annual flu shot became available for the general public Tuesday, and health officials say it’s just in time, with respiratory illnesses on the rise.
Londoners Michael and Harriet Plumb were among the first in line at Coulter’s Pharmacy in London, Ont. to receive their annual influenza immunization.
In a time of respiratory risk, they said they’re not about to take any chances.
“With COVID and everything we need as much coverage as possible, so why not,” says Harriet.
“Sometimes you feel like a pin-cushion,” adds Michael, “But it’s okay. I’m quite content with it, I got no problems with it.”
Flu shots can be booked through health care providers, public health units and participating pharmacies.
Michael Plumb receives his flu shot from pharmacist Scott Coulter at Coulter’s Pharmacy in London, Ont. on Nov. 1, 2022. (Bryan Bicknell/CTV News London)
“As the world opens up, as we start doing things, the chance of respiratory infections is going to be quite astronomical they say this year,” says pharmacist Scott Coulter.
Coulter says he’s been steady with administering flu shots since opening, adding that with holiday season around the corner, now is a better time than ever.
“Spending time in close proximity with other people, or other people that aren’t in our household inside an enclosed space increases the transmission of any respiratory virus,” he adds.
Middlesex-London Health Unit Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Alex Summers says this is expected to be a challenging flu season.
“Over the last few years we haven’t seen much flu activity as a result of all those public health measures we’ve taken to protect ourselves against COVID,” says Summers. “That means that this year many of us may not have seen flu in a long, long time. That makes us more susceptible.”
Flu shot availability comes as hospitals across the province have been dealing with major capacity issues and long wait times in emergency departments.
“If we do our part by getting ourselves vaccinated we are not only protecting ourselves but also those around us by potentially getting severely ill and ending up in hospital,” adds Summers.
Meanwhile, health officials continue to encourage getting the bivalent COVID-19 booster shot as well.
You can get both at the same time, but they should be administered in different arms.
Canadians should ensure kids get routine vaccines following COVID disruptions: doctors – National | Globalnews.ca – Global News
Preventable diseases like measles could follow trends seen elsewhere in the world and spread quickly in Canada due to a drop in routine vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic, say pediatricians who are urging parents to ensure their kids are fully immunized.
Provinces and territories log data on vaccinations provided in the community against infectious diseases like measles, diphtheria, polio and whooping cough, as well as vaccines against other illnesses administered in school immunization clinics.
Although much current data doesn’t cover years beyond 2019, provinces with more recent figures are already seeing a dramatic decline in routine vaccinations.
Pediatricians are concerned about possible outbreaks of preventable diseases if too many children were underimmunized or not vaccinated at all while public health clinics focused on COVID-19 vaccines. Widespread school closures and vaccine disinformation that swayed some parents against immunization efforts complicated matters still further.
Recent data from Public Health Ontarioshows that for 12-year-olds, vaccination against the liver infection hepatitis B plummeted to about 17 per cent in the 2020 to 2021 school year, compared with 67 per cent in the school year ending in 2019.
For human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can cause cancer, the vaccination numbers were even lower, plunging to 0.8 per cent last year, compared with 58 per cent in 2019. For the meningococcal vaccine, which helps protect against four types of the bacteria that cause a rare disease, vaccinations fell to about 17 per cent from 80 per cent over the same time. Risks of the potentially deadly illness include meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
Flu cases on the rise in Alberta
“The large decline in coverage in 2019-20 and 2020-21 illustrates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as there was limited capacity to deliver school-based immunization programs,” Public Health Ontario said in a statement.
It said data for uptake of vaccines aimed at protecting younger kids against measles, for example, is not available beyond 2019, and a report on later numbers is expected to be released next spring.
Dr. Monika Naus,medical director of Immunization Programs and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Service at the BC Centre for Disease Control, said in-school vaccines, starting in Grade 6, were delayed, but work is underway to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Younger children missed appointments at doctors’ offices while physicians were seeing patients virtually and public health clinics, which mostly administer routine vaccines for kids outside of the Lower Mainland region of the province, were busy with COVID-19 shots, Naus said.
Routine childhood vaccinations drop during pandemic
Dr. Sam Wong, director of medical affairs for the Canadian Paediatric Society, said disinformation and vaccine hesitancy during the pandemic, “combined with the failure of the public health system” to provide routine vaccines, mean certain populations could be left vulnerable to highly contagious diseases like measles, which spreads through coughing and sneezing.
“You could walk into a room an hour after someone’s been in there and potentially get infected,” he said.
“We’re worried, as a group of health-care providers, that if you have lower rates of vaccinations that you’re more likely to have localized outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses such as measles or mumps and chickenpox,” Wong said.
Wong said it’s important for doctors and parents to discuss the importance of routine vaccinations that have been proven effective for decades, adding some people believe young kids’ immune systems are not ready so they’d rather wait until they’re older.
“But that’s why you want to give the vaccine, because their immune system is not able to fight off infections,” he said.
“Some parents don’t want to even have discussions with me about it. But if there is an opening, I’m happy to talk about it,” said Wong, who works in Yellowknife, Edmonton and Victoria.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said Canadian studies have found immunization coverage declined during the pandemic for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
Toronto Public Health to resume in-school vaccination clinics in September
Quebec saw a 39 per cent drop in April 2020 compared with 2019, the agency said, with the greatest impact seen in children aged 18 months.
In Alberta, the agency said vaccination for those diseases declined by 10 per cent in April 2020 compared with the same month a year earlier. Coverage for Ontario children under two decreased by 1.7 per cent, it added.
“The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to work with provinces and territories on an ongoing basis to understand the impact of the pandemic on routine immunization coverage across Canada, and to improve the availability of high-quality data to inform immunization programs,” it said in a statement.
It is currently in discussions with all jurisdictions on ways to monitor coverage of vaccines, similar to a surveillance system used for COVID-19 vaccines, the agency said.
Nova Scotia Health said its last report on childhood vaccines was completed three years ago, and numbers have fallen during the pandemic.
“Anecdotally, we know there was a drop in childhood vaccination, but we do not have the specific numbers available at this time,” it said in a statement.
However, the school immunization program is aiming to help students catch up on vaccines that were missed early in the pandemic, mostly through doctors’ offices, it said, adding that getting an appointment was a challenge for some families.
“We know that a substantial number of Nova Scotians do not have a family doctor. Public Health often works with local primary care clinics to provide vaccines to those who do not have a family doctor and some public health offices will offer clinics to this population.”
Last week, the World Health Organization and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement saying a record high of nearly 40 million children missed first and second doses of the measles vaccine in 2021 due to disruptions in immunization programs since the start of the pandemic.
The two groups said there were an estimated nine million measles cases and 128,000 related deaths worldwide in 2021, and 22 countries experienced large outbreaks.
Dr. Noni MacDonald, a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said a national registry that could quickly tell doctors which children have not been vaccinated is essential in Canada.
“I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall,” she said of her efforts to call for that change.
“How can we do proper health-care planning when we don’t have the data?”
Canada is an “outlier” that lags behind most European countries on the measles vaccine, she said, adding a coverage rate of 95 per cent is needed to create so-called herd immunity against the highly infectious disease.
Canada recently had 84 per cent uptake of the second dose of the measles vaccine. MacDonald said Australia, in comparison, had 94 per cent based on the most recent data from the WHO. She used the two countries as an example because they had a similar number of births _ 368,000 in Canada, and 300,000 in Australia in 2021.
“We are just not in the same league, and we should be embarrassed.”
Flu shots are now free for everyone in Quebec due to overwhelmed hospital ERs
While the campaign for flu shots has already been underway in Quebec for several weeks, the provincial government announced on Friday that immunization will now be free of charge for any Quebecer over the age of six months.
Previously, only people who met certain criteria (babies, seniors, the chronically ill, etc) were able to get the influenza immunization free of charge, and the vaccination sites set up for COVID-19 were only handling free flu shots. Meanwhile, the general population in Quebec was previously only able to get vaccinated at pharmacies, for a fee.
The decision was made due to the critical state of hospital ERs in the province, particularly at children’s hospitals in Montreal, where kids are being brought in by parents in larger numbers than usual due to rising rates of flu, COVID-19 and RSV infections.
“With the trio of viruses currently circulating, the influenza vaccine is now available free of charge to all Quebecers who wish to take advantage of it. It’s one more tool to limit the pressure on our network.”
—Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé
To schedule an appointment for a flu shot and/or a COVID-19 shot, please visit the Clic Santé website.
Deadly Bird Flu Outbreak Is The Worst In U.S. History
An ongoing outbreak of a deadly strain of bird flu has now killed more birds than any past flare-up in U.S. history.
The virus, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza, has led to the deaths of 50.54 million domestic birds in the country this year, according to Agriculture Department data reported by Reuters on Thursday. That figure represents birds like chickens, ducks and turkeys from commercial poultry farms, backyard flocks and facilities such as petting zoos.
The count surpasses the previous record of 50.5 million dead birds from a 2015 outbreak, according to Reuters.
Turkeys in a barn on a poultry farm.
On farms, some birds die from the flu directly, while in other cases, farmers kill their entire flocks to prevent the virus from spreading after one bird tests positive. Such farmers have occasionally drawn condemnation from animal welfare advocates for using a culling method known as “ventilation shutdown plus,” which involves sealing off the airways to a barn and pumping in heat to kill the animals.
The virus has raged through Europe and North America since 2021. A variety of wild birds have been affected worldwide, including bald eagles, vultures and seabirds. This month, Peru reported its first apparent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza after 200 dead pelicans were found on a beach.
Pelicans suspected to have died from highly pathogenic avian influenza are seen on a beach in Lima, Peru, on Nov. 24.
The migration of infected wild birds has been a major cause of the spread. Health and wildlife officials urge anyone who keeps domestic birds to prevent contact with their wild counterparts.
While health experts do not generally consider highly pathogenic avian influenza to be a major risk to mammals, a black bear cub in Alaska was euthanized earlier this month after contracting the virus. Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen told the Juneau Empire newspaper that the young cub had a weak immune system.
Over the summer, avian flu also spread among seals in Maine, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believed contributed to an unusually high number of seal deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the risk “to the general public” from the bird flu outbreak is low. However, the agency recommends precautions like wearing personal protective equipment and thoroughly washing hands for people who have prolonged contact with birds that may be infected.
In April, a Colorado prisoner working at a commercial farm became the first person in the U.S. to test positive for the new strain, though he was largely asymptomatic.
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