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Alberta gearing up for busy COVID-19 and flu season

Flu season expected to be much worse than recent years
There is still time to get the flu shot before the 2019 Canada Winter Games arrives in Red Deer. (Photo contributed)

Alberta Health is preparing for a spike in COVID-19 and influenza cases this fall.

“We’re nervous about the fall. We know COVID is still out there. We’re predicting a really bad influenza season,” said Alberta Medical Association Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren at a news conference announcing a new four-year agreement with doctors.

“The pressure is on the hospitals already,” Warren added. “We have to work together. We have to anticipate. We need to be smart, saying to Albertans out there (COVID is) still real.”

The message to wash hands, wear a mask and stay home when sick remains unchanged.

Warren said COVID was a new challenge for the health-care system. She believes the new agreement will put the province in a better position to handle challenges such as COVID and the looming flu season.

“It’ll make (the system) more effective, more efficient to do the work that needs to be done and to bring all the stakeholders together.”

Health Minister Jason Copping said Alberta has been getting ready for anticipated increases in COVID and flu cases.

“We have been expanding our capacity across our entire system,” said Copping, adding an extra $600 million will be spent in each of the next three years to improve the province’s $22 billion health system, he said.

Included in that is $100 million for 50 new intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which were in short supply at times during earlier COVID waves.

Copping was asked why the province does not seem to be pushing the bivalent booster shot as strongly as did earlier vaccine doses.

“We continue to urge Albertans across the province to get whatever vaccine they’re eligible for,” he responded.

Alberta Health announced last week it would start offering the booster, approved by Health Canada earlier in the month, to people 18 and older starting Sept. 21.

The shot targets the original COVID-19 strain — and the more transmissible Omicron BA.1 variant. It also provides strong protection against the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.

The province plans to launch a campaign in a couple of weeks, urging people to get a flu shot.

“It is actually going to be a bad flu season,” he said.

“(Vaccines) still the best way to protect only ourselves, but our health-care system and we’re working with our partners like the AMA to get that message out.”

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