The last immunization clinic in Red Deer is scheduled for Saturday, with high demand for influenza vaccines across the province dwindling the supply and causing the cancellation of future flu clinics in the city and throughout Alberta.
Over one million Albertans have been immunized against the three influenza strains present in the province this year, including approximately 80,000 in the Central Zone, which includes Red Deer. The 16.6 per cent immunization rate in the zone — a figure that does not include vaccines administered by physicians — is below the provincial total of 25 per cent, though the latter figure does include physician-administered immunizations.
In past years, not all vaccines the province ordered have been used and have thus gone to waste. But this year the province had to purchase the last available doses on the planet earlier this week to supplement its supply.
Health officials said Wednesday that the 80,000 to 100,000 shots remaining in the province would likely be used up by today.
Nova Scotia announced Thursday that it is freeing up some of its surplus vaccine supply, making it available to other provinces.
Central Zone medical officer of health Dr. Digby Horne said he does not expect that there will be any more immunization clinics added in Red Deer after Saturday. Clinics had originally been scheduled at the Johnstone Crossing Community Health Centre and the Red Deer Regional Hospital for the rest of January.
He said after the weekend there may still be doctor’s offices that have vaccines available, but people would have to call ahead to check if they are available. Other remaining vaccines are being reserved for children receiving the seasonal influenza vaccine for the first time who still require a second dose. Some are also being withheld to “address specific outbreaks in health care centres and continuing care sites.”
The most common strain of influenza this year, accounting for 96 per cent of all cases, is H1N1, the strain that emerged in 2009 to cause 72 deaths in Canada. While the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the seasonal flu is down significantly so far this year compared to 2012/13, this year’s influenza has had provincial officials calling for widespread immunization.
“The resurgence of H1N1 has been associated with the hospitalization of young and middle-aged adults, which is different from last year, so that has kind of caught people’s attention,” said Horne.
Horne said the number of cases confirmed so far in January is higher than any similar period last flu season. The flu season is expected to peak in late January or early February, but he said an influenza peak is hard to predict.
AHS is now reporting that there have been eight deaths from the flu in Alberta this year. That total had been at nine before officials removed one death from the count after it was determined that a young Red Deer woman had died from the H5N1 avian flu virus and not the seasonal flu.
Statistics up to Wednesday show 1,571 confirmed cases of influenza in the province and 225 in the Central Zone — 372 of those cases have resulted in hospitalization for the province as a whole and 25 in the Central Zone specifically. As of Wednesday there were 54 Albertans in intensive care units due to influenza, including four in Central Alberta.
Among AHS employees, immunization rates are highest in the Central Zone, at 50.4 per cent. According to the results compiled up to Monday, Central Zone health care workers are the only such group in the province to surpass the AHS goal for the year of 50 per cent immunization.
Normal preventative precautions are recommended for those who are unable to get the vaccine to prevent spread of the flu. Covering coughs, cleaning hands, and staying home when sick can prevent the spread of illness.
The remaining immunization clinics in Red Deer will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Saturday at the Johnstone Crossing Community Health Centre at 300 Jordan Pkwy. The clinic will be operating on a drop-in basis.
For more information on flu clinics and the seasonal flu, visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/influ.