Absenteeism spikes in Central Alberta schools

H1N1 vaccine was made available on Monday in Red Deer just as student absenteeism spiked.

The crowd inside the Harvest Centre was easily as big as the one waiting outside.

H1N1 vaccine was made available on Monday in Red Deer just as student absenteeism spiked.

“Coming back from the weekend we’ve seen quite a jump as of today. Approximately half our schools have exceeded 10 per cent absenteeism, probably approaching 20 per cent in some of the schools,” said Bruce Buruma, director of community relations with Red Deer Public Schools.

Students are reporting flu-like illnesses and likely a good portion of them have contracted the H1N1 virus. It is circulating across Alberta and is expected to be the most prevalent virus affecting people this year.

Schools with Red Deer Catholic School Division have also reported more students absent.

“At this point, even though it is fluctuating by the hour, all of our schools are over 10 per cent except for Rocky Mountain House,” said Jeanne Davis, Red Deer Catholic communications director.

Buruma said rumours are circulating that schools are going to be closing and that is not true. According to the Health Agency of Canada, closing schools is not warranted and any such decision would be made in consultation with Alberta Health Services.

Gerhard Benadé, medical officer of health with the central zone of Alberta Health Services, said 30 to 40 schools out of about 350 in Central Alberta have reported significant absenteeism.

“In schools, there seems to be more spread because of how kids interact, being in the same space, and they may bring it home and expose families. Getting the vaccine now is pretty good timing,” said Benadé who was at the flu vaccine clinic at the Westerner’s Harvest Centre on Monday where upwards of 600 people were in line for vaccinations at any given time and waited up to four hours.

Both the seasonal influenza vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine were available and can be administered at the same time.

Alberta has so far received 400,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine with more to come and Benadé said Alberta Health Services believes it has an adequate amount to keep vaccinating people.

“Nobody will be turned away. We specifically encourage people with underlying medical conditions to get the vaccine sooner.”

To address concerns some people have about the vaccine’s safety, Benadé rolled up his sleeve and received his injection at a press conference on Monday.

He said the preservatives used in the vaccine have been used for a long time and have a good safety record. The vaccine also does not contain a live virus and only enough of the virus to activate people’s immune system so they can develop antibodies.

“People should not be concerned about getting the pandemic flu at least not from the vaccine.”

The next vaccination clinic will be held in Red Deer on Thursday at CrossRoads Church, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For the locations and dates of other clinics in the city and around Central Alberta call 1-866-408-5465 or go to www.albertahealthservices.ca

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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