Flu season is right around the corner and once again Saskatoon health officials are reminding the public to roll up their sleeves for a free flu shot.
Considered the best line of defence to protect people from influenza, this year 350,000 doses of the vaccine have been ordered by the province.
“The vaccine we’ll provide this year will be a quadrivalent vaccine, which contains two strains of viruses,” Dr. Simon Kapaj, deputy medical health officer with the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR), said.
“The most important strains we’re concerned about is the type A strain that contains H1N1 and the H3N2.”
H3N2 can cause serious complications, particularly among seniors, and because the strain changes every year, so does the vaccine.
“It’s a challenge, it’s not easy, it’s not a perfect process because we order the vaccine six or eight months earlier so by the time the vaccine is out there for individuals the strain may change,” Kapaj added.
“So we do our best with the available evidence that we have.”
If flu activity in the Southern Hemisphere is any indication, we could be in for a bad flu season.
Australia had twice as many cases this year as compared to last year and what happens there is usually a good predictor of what’s about to happen here.
“It’s hard to say how the season will unfold but we strongly encourage individuals especially in risk groups to receive the influenza vaccine.”
Influenza by numbers
During the 2016-17 flu season there were:
- 661 lab confirmed cases;
- 274 emergency department visits where patients presented with influenza-like illness;
- 115 hospitalizations;
- 6 ICU admissions; and
- 3 deaths.
- 2016-17: 27 per cent; and
- 2015-16: 28 per cent.
SHR employee immunization rates:
- 2016-17: 60.5 per cent;
- 2015-16: 64 per cent;
- 2014-15: 94.89 per cent; and
- 2013-14: 70.5 per cent.
*In 2014-15, Saskatchewan’s immunize or mask policy was in effect.
According to Kapaj, the health region is hoping that 20 per cent of the population or more is immunized this year especially those in high risk groups: children, the elderly, pregnant women and individuals with chronic health concerns.
In general, anyone six months and older is encouraged to get a flu shot this fall.
A popular option among children and those who hate needles, a nasal spray influenza vaccine known as FluMist, will not be made available for the second year in a row.
“There have been some conflicting studies regarding the effectiveness of the FluMist.”
What is new this year for families will be additional opportunities to fit the flu shot into their busy schedules.
Weekends, evenings and parents can even book by appointment since children under nine years old must receive the vaccine at a public health site.
Risa Ledray, manager of immunization services with SHR, said modifications are also being made at Prairieland Park – one of 45 mass immunization sites – so that it’s more family-friendly.
“It’s a big open space and it’s a scary space for kids when they’re seeing a lot of other kids getting immunized.”
Instead, private rooms will be set up for families with little ones in Hall A in a more contained setting so hopefully there’s less fear and tears as part of the process.