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Flu numbers “absolutely a problem”: AMA president

1,758 new flu cases in Alberta
On Thursday, Alberta Medical Association president Dr. Paul Parks emphasized the importance of influenza vaccines during a busy respiratory illness season this year. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Lab-confirmed influenza cases continue to soar with 1,758 new cases raising the total to 7,602 this flu season, according to Alberta Health data.

In Central Zone, 263 flu cases were reported from Dec. 10-16, bringing the total number of cases to 1,155. There have been 220 hospitalized for flu — up 58 from a week earlier — in central Alberta, with 20 — up three from the previous week — admitted to intensive care. Five more people have died, bringing the total to 12 deaths.

Central Zone appears to have a disproportionately high death toll. Calgary Zone is highest among the five zones with 15 deaths among its population of nearly 1.8 million, followed by Central Zone’s 12 deaths in a population of about 480,000, then Edmonton Zone’s 11 deaths in a population just short of 1.5 million. North Zone has had four deaths in a population of 476,000 and South Zone two among 316,000 people.

Alberta-wide 44 people have died from the flu, up 10 from a week earlier. The virus has sent 1,458 to hospital (up 361) , with 171 (up 39) going to ICUs.

At the same time, vaccination rates are reportedly at their lowest level in a decade.

In the nine weeks since the immunization campaign began, 22.7 per cent of Albertans have gotten flu shots. In Central Zone, 17.8 per cent are immunized, representing 85,468 people.

COVID numbers are even worse, with only 15.5 per cent immunized province-wide and 12.6 per cent in Central Zone.

Alberta Medical Association president Dr. Paul Parks said immunization rates are “absolutely a problem and a concern” at a news conference Thursday announcing funding for primary care providers.

“Vaccines really, truly work,” he said. “I want to put this in pespective out there, what we need is more Albertans being vaccinated because it works and it helps to protect those people but it also helps to protect the system.”

Parks said doctors are seeing two-year-olds with influenza who have developed brain infections that can be life-threatening or life-altering.

“We’re seeing adults who are maybe going to need heart transplants from influenza because they’ve done so much damage to their heart.”

Parks said Alberta’s hospitals are “overflowing with sick people with all respiratory viruses, but influenza is one of the highest right now,” he said, urging all Canadians to get their shots.

COVID claimed 17 more Albertans, bringing the total number of deaths since late August to 323. Edmonton Zone has the most COVID deaths with 121, followed by Calgary’s 96 and Central Zone’s 48. South Zone had 30 and North Zone 29.

There has been a single new death from COVID-19 in Central Zone. There have been 1,769 COVID cases, 383 hospitalizations (up 56) and 28 (up four) admitted to ICU.

Across Alberta, there were 660 more lab-confirmed cases of COVID, bringing the total to 11,765 cases. Another 189 people had to be hospitalized for a total of 2,836 and 173 required ICU care, up 21 from the previous week.

There have been 1,377 respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases in Alberta, 320 more than the previous week. Central Zone has had 118 RSV cases (up 34).

The Alberta government’s approach to immunization has been under scrutiny recently.

Premier Danielle Smith was called on to defend her government’s immunization messaging, which saw mentions of COVID and influenza removed from advertising campaigns.

Smith pointed out both viruses were specifically mentioned in a press release announcing the start of immunization season which urged Albertans to book vaccination appointments and talk to their doctors.

Alberta’s COVID vaccination of 14.3 per cent is only slightly less than the national average of 14.6 per cent, and higher than Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Smith was quoting Health Canada statistics as of Dec. 3. Alberta’s COVID vaccination rate has since increased to 15.5 per cent as of Dec. 16.

The premier was asked why fewer people were getting vaccines and people appeared to be more skeptical about them.

“I don’t know,” said Smith.

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said COVID and influenza were not being singled out in immunization campaigns because the province has gone from a pandemic to an endemic stage.

“When you’re in an endemic state, then all of the respiratory viruses that are out there are treated in the same manner, and so the language and the documentation and the communication has to be in alignment.”

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