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Here’s how to get your flu shot in northwestern Ontario, as health officials warn of increasing cases

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Flu shot availability opened up in Ontario yesterday, and health officials are urging people to get vaccinated right away, as they begin to see an early start to the usual flu season.

In Thunder Bay, the health unit says it’s already seeing an increasing number of flu cases in the last two weeks.

“Flu is a serious disease that results in hospitalizations and deaths every year in Ontario,” said Dr. Janet Demille, the medical officer of health with the health unit .

“With COVID-19 and other viruses still circulating and the health care system under tremendous strain, it is particularly important that people protect themselves and others,” she continued in a media release on Monday.

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This is the first batch of vaccines available to the general public. Previous immunization efforts were reserved for individuals considered high-risk.

The province is also encouraging COVID-19 booster shots, saying it is safe to get your COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot at the same time.

“Getting your flu shot as early as you can helps keep each other and our most vulnerable loved ones healthy,” Health Minister Sylvia Jones said.

COVID-19 vaccines are available to anyone six months and older, and the bivalent booster to those 12 and older.

The health unit says people at higher risk should get their flu shot as soon as possible.

High risk people include, people 65 years old or older, people with chronic illnesses, children 6 months to 4 years old, pregnant people, and Indigenous people.

Some experts say it’s difficult to predict the severity of the upcoming flu season, but trends in Australia from this year could offer some clues.

Australia’s seasons occur at the opposite time from North America’s, and that typically provides an idea of what to expect. CBC News previously reported that data from that country’s Department of Health and Aged Care shows infections were higher this year than the five-year-average, with cases spiking early in the season.

Where to get a flu shot in Thunder Bay and district communities

As of yesterday, people at higher risk can walk in for a flu shot at the TBDHU COVID-19 vaccine clinic on the CLE grounds in the city, even if they don’t need a COVID-19 vaccine.

This clinic will also continue to offer flu vaccines to children under 5 and their accompanying family members, according to the health unit.

Residents in district communities should contact their community’s health care provider or a pharmacy to access the flu vaccine, according to the health unit.

The TBDHU said it will continue to offer COVID-19 vaccine clinics in district communities and is planning additional clinics in the Thunder Bay area to offer flu shots to those at highest risk and COVID-19 boosters to everyone who is eligible.

Check the TBDHU Getting the Flu Shot page for more details.

In the northwest, people can book a flu shot appointment through the Northwestern Health Unit by visiting its website.

Other ways to avoid the flu

Here are some other tips from the Thunder Bay District Health Unit on how to steer clear of the flu:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Wear a mask especially in indoor public settings or crowded places.
  • Stay home if you are sick.

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These are some of the advantages of childcare!

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The teaching staff at the daycare encourages interaction between the children by, for example, playing music together, letting them play on the activity mat, or playing games with them. Other ways that interaction is encouraged to include having them play on the activity mat. Your youngster will begin to develop basic social skills in this manner. They also develop the skills to make friends, stand up for themselves when they are bullied, and share with their fellow students as they get older.

When a child attends child care, they will learn…

There are millions of children who spend each day having fun, discovering new things, and playing at one of the hundreds of childcare centers across the country. Child care is a great option not just for working parents but also for the children of those parents, who can reap the countless benefits that child care has to offer. Child care is a fantastic choice for both working parents and their children.

Children are given access to a safe and nurturing environment in which they are encouraged to investigate the world around them. At the same time, they are given the opportunity to learn essential skills that will enable them to be successful in both their academic endeavours and in life more generally. The following are reasons why it is beneficial to both you and your child for you to enroll your child in an early education program at a childcare center.

Capability to communicate with other people

If a child begins visiting a childcare facility at the earliest possible age, it will be of great benefit to their overall social and emotional development. Children have the potential to develop when they learn to engage with people, such as at Daycare Calgary NW or another location. The earlier in life that children begin this process, the simpler it will be for them to mature.

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The capacity for reflection and investigation

A childcare facility that is of high quality will offer a variety of activities and educational games to the children who are enrolled there. These activities and games have the potential to have a positive impact on the cognitive development of children. In addition to acquiring linguistic skills, they will also gain familiarity with shapes, colour schemes, and numerical values.

While taking part in this activity, young people have the opportunity to increase both their general knowledge of the world and their capacity for critical thought. This is still another advantage. In order to make learning more appealing to the children in their care, a good daycare center will, on a daily basis, involve the children in a variety of educational activities. Many of these activities will be presented to the children in the guise of “play,” but their true purpose will be to educate them.

A lesson plan that has been carefully considered

Each and every daycare center has a set of pedagogical guidelines that have been thoroughly analyzed. This provides an overview of the concept that underpins the nursery’s approach to interacting with children. For instance, one of the concepts is to incentivize forward movement. Not only does your kid pick up a lot of social skills at daycare, but they also improve their important motor skills, creative abilities, and cognitive abilities, all while being challenged. The educational staff participates in a variety of activities, such as movement games, reading books, playing outside, and producing music with the student. These activities all contribute to the kids’ development. The development of language is helped by intentionally naming objects and repeatedly using words.

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B.C. to start public push to get more kids vaccinated against flu as cases climb

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia health officials are urging parents to get their young children vaccinated against influenza ahead of the holiday season as the province deals with crowded emergency rooms.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said after two years of low rates of flu, mostly due to travel restrictions, the province is seeing a “dramatic increase” in illness and it arrived sooner than normal.

“We know, much more than COVID, influenza can cause more severe illness in children, especially young children, and it can lead to secondary bacterial infections with things like streptococcus and pneumococcus that can cause very severe pneumonia,” she said Monday.

“And so that’s the concern that we have now.”

Henry said there is still time for people to get a flu vaccine to protect themselves and their children, especially as the holiday season approaches.

“We’re starting to see the impact of a large number of children who haven’t been exposed to influenza for a few years and a small proportion of them are getting severely ill,” she said.

“So now’s the time to really make a difference and get that vaccine now.”

According to the most recent numbers from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, for the week of Nov. 20, 169 patients were in BC Children’s Hospital with some form of a respiratory virus. Of those, 71 had influenza.

Henry said the province started seeing influenza numbers climb about two weeks ago and that the flu season typically lasts about two months.

While the province is on track for a record number of people getting their flu shot this year, Dr. Penny Ballem, with BC Vaccine Operations, said Monday that only 20 per cent of children under five have been vaccinated.

The government will be using its provincial health registry to contact parents in an attempt to increase that number.

Ballem said they’ll be sending texts and emails to the families of about 150,000 children under five who are not part of the province’s vaccine booking system and inviting them to make appointments.

She said there’s also a significant social media campaign from the government and health authorities encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said visits to provincial emergency rooms had been averaging 6,700 per day, but that is now peaking up to 6,900 patients daily, with extra pressure on BC Children’s and Fraser Health hospitals.

B.C. Children’s briefly called a code orange on Saturday, a step sometimes used in mass casualty events. It was lifted 28 minutes later.

Dix said it was determined the code did not need to be enacted in order to make the mandatory overtime call-out, which was required at the time.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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B.C. ramps up appeal to vaccinate as influenza surges in children

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The province is ramping up its flu-shot campaign, especially for young children, as hospital emergency departments deal with a flu-driven spike in visits.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is seeing a “dramatic increase” in cases of Influenza A, particularly H3N2, which can cause severe illness, especially in children.

The surge began about two weeks ago and while it’s leveling off in older teens, it continues to spike in younger children who — along with seniors — are most susceptible to serious illness and complications.

Henry, speaking at a news conference in Vancouver Monday with Health Minister Adrian Dix, said it’s not too late for vaccination to make a difference. “We can blunt that and we can prevent that ongoing transmission to older adults as we come together over the holiday season, which is often when we see our influenza peaking.”

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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the flu season usually lasted six weeks to two months, peaking after the winter holidays when people gather indoors. Typically in Canada every year, 15,000 to 20,000 people would be hospitalized with the flu and 2,500 to 3,000 would die.

Now, however, it’s surging earlier and the number of cases of Influenza A is way up, said Henry.

Children’s hospitals across the country have seen a surge in patients, including those affected by COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, for which there is no vaccine.

On Monday, children’s critical care beds in the province were at 63 per cent capacity, with high acuity/pediatric ICU beds at 85 per cent. (On the Island, the numbers were slightly lower: Children’s critical care bed capacity at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital was at 44 per cent capacity and Victoria General Hospital was at 50 per cent. High acuity/pediatric ICU beds at Victoria General Hospital were at 60 per cent capacity.)

At B.C. Children’s Hospital, where ER wait times were reported as 10 hours on Friday and nine on Saturday, a “code orange” that’s generally used for disasters and mass-casualty incidents was called at 6:35 a.m. Saturday and cancelled 28 minutes later.

Dix said the alert was based on information “available at the time” and promptly cancelled with new information.

Henry said while other respiratory viruses, including RSV, are levelling off in B.C., pediatricians and children’s hospitals are reporting more severe influenza and in some cases complications from influenza. Many children haven’t been exposed to the flu virus during the restrictions of the pandemic and thus haven’t built immunity.

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau said Monday he is “extremely worried” about a rise in respiratory illnesses among children as hospitals across the country report they are struggling to keep up with high volumes of patients.

Trudeau said it’s everyone’s responsibility to get vaccinated against both COVID-19 and influenza. He said health officials will consider measures such as mandatory masks.

Influenza A H3N2, which causes more severe illness, particularly in children age five and younger, is the main strain in circulation. Influenza is more concerning in young children than COVID because it can lead to secondary bacterial infections such as streptococcus or pneumococcus that can cause serious bacterial pneumonia, said Henry.

The vaccine offered this year includes H1N1 and H3N2 and two B strains, and appears to be a “very good” match to the virus circulating, offering 50 to 70 per cent protection against infection and illness, said Henry.

In B.C., influenza vaccine is free to anyone six months and older through health clinics, doctors’ offices, and pharmacies — with enhanced vaccines for seniors and FluMist for children who can’t tolerate needles.

So far, about 1.5 million British Columbians — including more than 50 per cent of those age 65 and older — have been vaccinated, using about 70 per cent of the current vaccine stock, with more expected.

However, only 20 per cent of children ages six months to 11 are vaccinated against the flu, and just 15 per cent of those age 12 to 17, said Dix, who urged parents to vaccinate their children. “What we’re seeing amongst children is a more significant influenza season by a very significant margin than last year and that reflects on the presentation at emergency departments.”

Emergency room visits in September and October of about 6,700 have increased to 6,800 to 6,900, he said.

Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead of Immunized B.C. vaccine operations, said the province will host a vaccination blitz Dec. 9, 10, and 11 to get more people vaccinated through pharmacists, family doctors or health authority clinics designed for children, with thousands of appointments available on the GetVaccinated system.

The province will also send out emails and texts to the families of about 150,000 children age 5 and younger inviting them to make appointments.

B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley, called on the province to take steps beyond vaccination, including focusing on ventilation, masks and physical distancing.

A high number of children and teachers are missing school because they are sick, children’s wards and ERs are overwhelmed, and operations for children and infants are being cancelled, said Furstenau at a news conference Monday at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver. “I am deeply concerned for children and families in this province right now,” she said.

Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, a pediatric cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at B.C. Children’s Hospital who joined Furstenau at the news conference, said mandating masks is a reasonable and effective tool that should be used in addition to vaccination.

As a heart surgeon, Gandhi said, he’s seeing kids with viral infections who are sicker than he’s seen in decades. “We have all the tools to change the trajectory of this horrible situation — and it’s horrible. The only missing ingredient is courage, the courage for our leaders to be transparent to the public about what’s happening in our hospitals.”

Henry said masking in schools now is “very unlikely” to have any effect on the trajectory of the several viruses that are circulating.

Masks continue to be required in health-care settings, she said, but a general mask mandate is a “heavy handed” measure used as a “last resort when it’s something that is absolutely needed, everywhere, all the time.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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