According to the Alberta Medical Association’s (AMA) pediatric section, the province currently has the highest pediatric influenza activity in the country and they’re hoping a solution to bring those numbers down is imminent.
Respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV, is wreaking havoc among children in Canada with levels being “higher than average.” According to the AMA, RSV-associated hospitalizations in children have increased in the U.S. compared to pre-pandemic years.
In a news release, the AMA said numbers within the Immunization Monitoring Program Active (IMACT) network, show the amount of weekly influenza-associated pediatric hospitalizations in Canada is already higher than levels typically seen at the peak of the influenza season.
With this in mind, pediatric doctors are recommending swift changes be made surrounding Alberta health measures in order to bring the number of RSV cases down and to have a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach that’s currently flooding emergency room departments.
The first recommendation surrounds an increase in public health messaging when it comes to the efficacy and safety of vaccines both for the flu and for COVID-19. (See updated Alberta flu statistics below).
Another recommendation is explaining to the public that getting the vaccine will not only prevent people from getting a viral infection, but also help decrease the chance of severe outcomes or hospitalization.
It’s something the president of the pediatric section, Dr. Sam Wong said needs to be done for everyone throughout the province.
“Given that vaccines decrease the chance of severe outcomes and hospitalizations in children, we are urging public health officials to provide increased messaging around the safety and efficacy of both influenza and COVID-19 vaccines for children, and to ensure accessibility to these vaccines for all populations,” Dr. Wong said.
Other recommendations include:
- Increased accessibility to vaccines, especially amongst marginalized populations by offering school vaccine clinics or mobile vaccine services,
- A temporary mask requirement in schools for children and educators with the provision of high-quality medical-grade masks,
- Approval and support of the placement of HEPA purifiers in school classrooms,
- Increased messaging around optimizing ventilation and filtration when having indoor gatherings by opening windows or using HEPA purifiers when feasible,
- Encouragement of frequent hand washing, access to sanitizer and sanitization of high-touch surfaces in schools and essential indoor public spaces; and
- Increased messaging around staying home from work and school when sick.
The AMA sent a letter to Dr. Mark Joffe, Alberta’s acting chief medical officer of health, asking for these measures to be implemented.
Joffe’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but he sent a letter on Nov. 23 to parents recommending flu vaccines for children six months and older. He also encouraged masks, but added it was a choice that should be respected.
Joffe, also a senior executive with Alberta Health Services, has not spoken publicly since he was brought in as Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s replacement in mid-November.
“COVID-19 continues to contribute to pediatric hospitalizations, with three times more children in the one-to-nine-year age group admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in the first eight months of 2022 than in the entire 20 months prior,” Dr. Tehseen Ladha, executive member of the AMA’s section of pediatrics said.
“That is why we are recommending immediate mitigation measures.”
The measures listed would provide “some much-needed relief” to pediatricians currently bracing the wave according to the AMA.
“These protections will help decrease the spread of multiple viral illnesses, including RSV, influenza and COVID-19, that are increasing at alarming rates in our community and leading to increased school absenteeism as well as unprecedented wait times in Emergency Departments and overcapacity pediatric inpatient and outpatient units throughout the province,” said Dr. Kyle McKenzie, another AMA executive member of the pediatric section.
The pediatric section represents more than 300 members of the AMA.
Alberta records 8 additional flu-related deaths
Alberta Health released updated flu statistics on Thursday, which show eight more people have died of the flu since data was released last Thursday.
As of Dec. 3, Alberta had recorded 6,288 lab-confirmed cases of the flu. That’s up from 5,163 lab-confirmed cases in the province as of Nov. 26.
The number of people in hospital because of the flu has also jumped in the last week, from 818 people to 1,124 people. Of those, 112 people are in intensive care.
More than one million doses of the flu vaccine have been administered, reaching about 24 per cent of the population.
—with files from Caley Gibson, Global News and The Canadian Press