September 27, 2018 3:55 pm
Updated: September 27, 2018 5:18 pm

Group calls for greater availability of high-dose flu vaccine in Nova Scotia

WATCH: New high dose flu vaccines will be provided to those living in long term care facilities this fall. As Silas Brown reports, the Department of Health estimates that close to 7,000 people will be vaccinated through the program.

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The Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness is rolling out new high dosage vaccinations this flu season for some of the province’s most vulnerable citizens.

“This will be the first year where our residents will be receiving the high dose flu vaccine so we look forward to seeing the results of that new vaccine being provided in what is identified as a very high risk population,” said minister Randy Delorey of the new program.

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High-dose vaccines are four times the strength of regular vaccines and are designed to help seniors build immunity to the flu more effectively. Those living in long-term care facilities will be provided the Fluzone vaccine free of charge, while others who want it will have to shell out $100.

According to the Department of Health there were 63 influenza-related deaths last flu season, all of whom were 65 or older, more than double the 27 who died the previous year. In general seniors are more at risk for infection than the rest of the population. Although the 65 plus demographic makes up only 15 per cent of the population, they account for 67 per cent of influenza infections, and 88 per cent of influenza related deaths.

“Seniors don’t have the same immune system and can’t mount that response to a vaccine so these high efficiency vaccines are going to make hopefully a significant difference,” said Josie Ryan, executive director of Northwood’s long-term care facility.

READ MORE: N.S., N.B. flu-related deaths have more than doubled this year: health officials

Ryan says that the vaccination rate at the facility is over 90 per cent, yet outbreaks still occur.

“You and I can have a vaccine and our immune system takes that vaccine and it works really well for us, but for seniors it doesn’t, so hopefully with the high efficiency it will be a better response for the residents and they don’t come down with the influenza or even if they come down with influenza they don’t have the side effects or the complications as severe.”

WATCH: Tips to keep your family healthy through the flu season

Bill VanGorder, Atlantic representative for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, says that the availability of the high-dose vaccines is an important step forward.

“High-dose vaccines are extremely important and CARP has been advocating for their availability to seniors for years,” he said.

What VanGorder doesn’t like is that the vaccines are only being provided to those in long-term care facilities instead of being available to all seniors.

“That doesn’t make any sense. If the government has agreed that this is a very effective way of preventing disease among people of an age and yet their limiting the people who can get it. They want people to stay in their homes, they want them to be healthy at home, yet they’re not willing to extend the coverage of that vaccine to seniors who don’t happen to be in long term care,” VanGorder said.

“People over 65 are at the highest risk of getting the flu and that’s why we need to make sure that they have the vaccine that they have the vaccine that they need to prevent it. Think of the cost savings of not having those people in hospital. The cost is minimal compared to even a one day stay in the hospital.”

READ MORE: Nearly 100 flu-related deaths this year in N.S., N.B.: health officials  

Delorey said that depending on the success of the program this year the province will look at extending coverage to other populations, but that wouldn’t happen until next year.

“At this point we want to see how well this works. We have some data that suggest that this is a population where this particular vaccine would be effective and provide good results, that’s what we focused on when we rolled out that policy and are rolling it out this year so we do look forward to seeing it and if we see that it meets the expectations we’ll be able to evaluate if the delivery of that vaccine should be expanded to other populations.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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