Vaccine protects you and those around you

Thank you for your patience in these busy and trying times. Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 is unprecedented in the lifetime of almost every Canadian, and because it is unlike anything our younger generations have seen before, there is little pre-existing or partial immunity to this virus. Turning the tide on its spread will take extraordinary effort and extraordinary patience and understanding.

Thank you for your patience in these busy and trying times.

Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 is unprecedented in the lifetime of almost every Canadian, and because it is unlike anything our younger generations have seen before, there is little pre-existing or partial immunity to this virus. Turning the tide on its spread will take extraordinary effort and extraordinary patience and understanding.

Only a week ago it was confirmed the second wave of H1N1 had started here in Alberta. The vaccine was approved by Health Canada October 21, 2009, and within a few days mass vaccination clinics had been made operational across the province.

Although the lineups and the number of locations can be frustrating, mass vaccination was chosen for one reason: to move as quickly as possible to vaccinate the largest number of people possible — especially those at greatest risk. Urgency is of greatest importance right now and mass vaccination clinics are the most effective way to reach the most people.

Public clinics will continue to operate for the foreseeable future. So it is important to ask yourself if you need to go today because you are in a high-risk group or whether you can wait a few days if you are otherwise healthy. Be assured that every Albertan who wants a vaccination will get one.

There have been 13 deaths in Alberta, and 87 or nearly 100 across Canada. Unfortunately, there will be more, particularly among people with pre-existing conditions and those at higher risk.

And yet it has been reported that many Canadians are not convinced that they should take the vaccine.

We respect the right of individuals to decide whether or not to be vaccinated. But we ask that they bear this in mind: Immunization protects not only you, but your family, your friends, your colleagues, your community.

Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 will be the predominant strain of influenza this season, and it is virtually certain that at some point in the next few months you will come in contact with someone who has H1N1.

Many will become ill and by far most will recover. But some will become ill enough to require hospitalization and some will die. If you are not immunized, and you do fall ill, there is also a significant risk that you will pass the illness on to others who might not be able to withstand influenza. That is the nature of a pandemic and it is hard truth we must face — now, while it can be contained.

We will not be alarmist nor add to the fear that seems to be increasing precisely when people need to be calm and patient. Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 is here and now is the time for responsible, concerted action. Your health-care providers have the right tools to get the job done and are committed to fighting H1N1, at whatever the cost. Whatever criticism we face pales in comparison to that commitment.

We expect that the immunization clinic lineups will ease in the days ahead — they will be open until Christmas for certain — but it is also reasonable to expect that the campaign will take some time to have effect in terms of reducing the spread of H1N1. We now have hundreds of people on staff providing vaccine and hundreds more supporting them to keep the vaccine moving and the clinics running. We will be ramping up as more staff becomes available once we have vaccinated our health care workforce.

We receive vaccine in batches from the Public Health Agency of Canada and to date we have received 580,000 doses. More batches are expected each week. We will provide weekly updates — and daily as needed — of the progress of H1N1 and the immunization effort.

You may also soon notice some changes in how other health services are delivered. During this extraordinary time we may need to defer some services such as the regular childhood vaccination programs or some elective procedures as we focus our resources on preventing the spread of H1N1 and caring for those ill with it.

Vaccine will be available in the coming weeks for community physicians if they wish to administer it in their offices or clinics, but again, we urge you not to wait. The number of people vaccinated will have a direct impact on our ability to curtail the spread of H1N1.

All clinic dates, locations and times are available on the Alberta Health Services website at www.albertahealthservices.ca. The vaccine is simple and it is safe. It has been produced using all the same processes and safeguards as all influenza vaccines have been for years. It has been thoroughly tested and it remains the most effective way to prevent the spread of influenza.

As of Wednesday, nearly 150,000 Albertans and 35,000 health care workers had been vaccinated. We would also like to ask employers to give their employees the time to get vaccinated. We would also ask employers to accommodate the fact that we will not be in a position to provide employee sick notes for individuals with mild illness, or test mild illnesses, which would strain resources.

Finally, I would like to say thank you to our staff for making all this possible. They are doing the best they can — an extraordinary effort — under extraordinary circumstances.

Please, get vaccinated and learn more about symptoms and self care from our website at www.albertahealthservices.ca

Dr. Gerry Predy, MD, FRCPC

Senior Medical Officer of Health

Alberta Health Services

Dr. David Megran, MDCM, FRCPC

Senior Physician Executive

Alberta Health Services

and Infectious Diseases Specialist

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