Refusing flu shots is taking a risk: officer

Abstaining from H1N1 vaccination could be a gamble, especially if people are at risk for serious health complications from the flu, says a local medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services.

Abstaining from H1N1 vaccination could be a gamble, especially if people are at risk for serious health complications from the flu, says a local medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services.

A recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll showed only a third of Canadians say they will get vaccinated, compared with 43 per cent who responded to a poll in late August.

Those most at risk include people under 65 with a chronic illness, pregnant women and children six months to five years old.

“We would be alarmed if people in those groups aren’t vaccinated,” said Gerhard Benade, with the central zone of AHS.

The risk of complications is real according to what happened in Australia, which just had its winter flu season, he said on Friday.

As for the general public that may be interacting with those groups, getting vaccinated will definitely help break the chain of transmission, he said.

Public concerns about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine and the likelihood that H1N1 will be a mild illness for most has some people wondering whether they need vaccinations.

“It’s important for people to be aware of good sources of information — the Public Health Agency of Canada, Alberta Health Services — and understand the scientific credibility of that information and not be affected by all the strange stories out there,” Benade said.

Vaccinations go through very rigorous safety trials and Alberta’s H1N1 campaign is based on all available data scrutinized by the scientific community in many different countries. They agree the vaccine should be the base defence in addition to sanitary precautions, he said.

There’s also the chance that the virus may become more virulent based on historical pandemic information.

“There is always the risk it may evolve. There’s no evidence of it yet. But in past pandemics that has happened,” Benade said.

“Not getting the vaccine does kind of roll the dice.”

Seasonal flu immunization starts in Red Deer on Oct. 19 and will shift to H1N1 as soon as that vaccine becomes available in late October or early November.

As of Friday, the number of hospitalized confirmed cases of H1N1 in Alberta stood at 133, including eight cases to date in Central Alberta.

Eight people have died in the province, with one in Central Alberta.

So far this fall, H1N1 has not shown up in big clusters in the region.

“We expect H1N1 to make its appearance in larger numbers when it gets colder.”

Alberta Health Services has information posted on H1N1 at www.albertahealthservices.ca or call HEALTHLink Alberta at 1-866-408-5465.

— with files from the Canadian Press

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

Where to get your vaccination

Drop-in immunization clinics for seasonal influenza will be held in Red Deer starting Oct. 3 for people in high-risk groups.

People at risk of health complications from the flu include people age 65 and older; pregnant women; healthy children age six months to 23 months old; adults and children with chronic conditions such as heart conditions, respiratory conditions and diabetes; people living in continuing care and designated assisted living facilities and health care staff working in those facilities.

Vaccination is free. People must bring their Alberta Health Care Card or a piece of mail with their name and Alberta address.

Red Deer clinics will be held at the following locations:

• Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Westerner Park Harvest Centre, 4847A-19th St.

• Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Westerner Park Harvest Centre.

• Oct. 26 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Westerner Park Harvest Centre.

• Oct. 29 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Crossroads Church, Hwy 2 and 32nd Street, 38105 Range Road 275.

• Nov. 3 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Westerner Park Harvest Centre.

• Nov. 5 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Kentwood Alliance Church, 4 Kennedy Drive.

• Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Festival Hall Memorial Centre, 4214-58th St.

• Nov. 13 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Festival Hall Memorial Centre.

• Nov. 10 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at First Christian Reform Church, 16 McVicar St.

For the date and location of other seasonal clinics scheduled for communities in Central Alberta call HEALTHLink Alberta toll free at 1-866-408-5465.

Seasonal flu immunization will shift to H1N1 as soon as H1N1 vaccine becomes available in late October or early November.

H1N1 vaccine will also be free and available to all Albertans.

The need to resume or expand the seasonal flu vaccination will be re-assessed once the H1N1 vaccination program ends.

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