Fewer Central Albertans have been immunized against the flu by the public health department so far this year.
“Public health-administered doses is down about 6,000 compared to this time last year,” said Dr. Digby Horne, a chief medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services Central Zone, on Thursday.
He does not know why.
“One suggestion is pharmacists and physicians may be doing more (immunizations). But we won’t know their numbers until December.”
As of Nov. 10, a total of 38,276 doses were administered by public health in Central Zone. That includes children under nine who have so far only had one of the two doses they require for immunization.
Last year, 85,877 doses of the influenza vaccine were administered in Central Alberta.
Six influenza cases have been confirmed in Central Alberta as of Nov. 10.
Between Aug. 26 and Nov. 10, a total of 82 cases were confirmed across Alberta.
Horne said it takes two weeks after immunization for full protection so now is the best time to prepare for the flu season with fewer cases and readily accessible vaccine.
“We haven’t had any indication the strains circulating this year are different from what’s in the vaccine.”
On Thursday, the province made it easier for adults to get immunized by giving them the option of using the nasal spray influenza vaccine FluMist.
Originally for the two-to-17-year-old population, nasal spray vaccine availability has been expanded because of a lower than expected demand.
The nasal spray also has a shorter expiry date than the injectable influenza vaccines, Agriflu and Fluviral, that are offered through the province’s annual influenza immunization program.
The spray is good until the end of January.
As of early November, only about 38,000 out of a total 150,000 available doses of FluMist have been administered.
Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said children and youth were OK with getting the needle.
“We have anecdotal stories of parents who insisted their kids get the needle. They seemed to think it was somehow better that way,” Talbot said.
A total of 3,447 nasal spray vaccine doses were administered to children and youth in Central Alberta as of Nov. 10.
FluMist is now available to Albertans who request it at Alberta Health Services influenza immunization clinics, as well as through physicians and pharmacists.
Talbot said there was some wiggle room for adults who have a fear of needles to get the spray even before Thursday.
The spray is a little more effective for the two-to-17-year-olds, but is still an acceptable level of protection for other age groups, he said.
In Canada, only Alberta and Quebec are using the spray.
So far, 451,000 Albertans have been immunized by spray or needle this year.
“That’s about seven per cent under where we were at the same time last year. That’s reasonably close. We always see some variation on when people get concerned about getting their shot. It’s often related to when they start to see lots of people starting to be affected by flu in their community.”
In addition to immunization, Talbot advised Albertans to ramp up other precautions like standing more than a metre away from someone coughing, washing their hands and using hand sanitizer if they are out in public and before they eat. Those infected should also stay away from work or school, cough into their elbow, and remove “sodden Kleenex” from pockets to keep their hands clean.
Immunization clinics at Red Deer at the Holiday Inn, 6500 67th St., will be held Monday and Tuesday from 1 to 7:30 p.m.
Clinics at Red Deer First Christian Reformed Church, 16 McVicar St., will be held Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Monday from 1 to 7:30 p.m.
People are asked to bring their Alberta Health Care Card.
For more information on the influenza vaccine and for more clinic times and locations, visit www.albertahealthservices.ca or call Alberta Health Link at 1-866-408-LINK (5465).