Quebec starts early on vaccinating

Authorities in Quebec began vaccinations against the H1NI virus two days ahead of schedule Saturday after a school was hit by a second wave of swine flu this week.

MONTREAL — Authorities in Quebec began vaccinations against the H1NI virus two days ahead of schedule Saturday after a school was hit by a second wave of swine flu this week.

The des Basques health and social service centre in Trois-Pistoles, some 200 kilometres northeast of the provincial capital, confirmed Friday that 13 students from the Arc-en-Ciel high school had the flu.

All the cases were mild. Almost a third of the 393 students were absent last week due to various health complaints.

The school will remain open but officials will focus on preventive measures like handwashing.

Marie-Claude Gagnon, spokeswoman for the Quebec Health Ministry, explained Bas-Saint-Laurent health officials decided to roll out the vaccines in advance as a precaution.

“Basically, the vaccinations were supposed to start Monday for those at highest risk,” she said.

Ottawa approved the H1N1 vaccine Wednesday and the countrywide vaccination is set to begin Monday, though vaccination programs differ from region to region.

Gagnon said vaccinations for pregnant woman, people with depressed immune systems, young children, health-care workers and others who are at a high-risk of contracting the virus will begin in the rest of the province Oct. 26 as planned.

Once the initial phase has been completed, the rest of the population can get the shot at vaccination centres throughout Quebec.

Quebec has over 400,000 doses of the vaccine.

The Quebec move came as U.S. President Barack Obama declared the pandemic a national emergency in an effort to speed treatment to thousands of infected people.

However, a spokesman for the Ontario Health Ministry said neither move will affect Ontario’s course of action because the province is already acting with a sense of urgency.

“We don’t need to do things like that in Ontario… We’re able to take those steps without having to invoke emergency legislation,” said Kevin Finnerty.

U.S. officials said Obama’s effort is designed to make decisions easier when they need to be made.

The declaration authorizes Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to bypass federal rules when opening offsite hospital centres.

And hospitals could change patient rules to allow them faster access to treatment, with government approval.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government is being accused of lacking a sense of urgency in dealing with the virus.

Liberal public health critic Dr. Kirsty Duncan met with front-line public health officials Friday and was told they need more staff and physical resources, and more public education.

On Saturday in Calgary, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Canadians who don’t get vaccinated are needlessly putting themselves and others at risk.

“We’re starting to see more cases in Canada, we’re seeing more deaths in Canada and we don’t know how bad it’s going to be,” she told the Calgary Sun.

“A person I knew died from this so it’s a very real thing and you can do your part to protect yourself and your children and your neighbourhood.”

She and Dr. David Butler-Jones, head of the Public Health Agency, said they will be getting the vaccine and recommending their families do, too.

“It’s actually more about the people around me because I don’t want to be the source of an infection that might send one of my kids, or grandkids or friends to a hospital or ultimately kill them,” Butler-Jones said. “Unless we get everybody, or as many people immunized as possible, somewhere between 20 and 35 per cent of us will get sick of the next few months,” he said.

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