Alberta to offer H1N1 vaccine to everyone in the province starting Monday

Alberta will begin offering the H1N1 vaccine to all residents for free starting Monday.

EDMONTON — Anyone living in Alberta will be able to get the H1N1 shot for free starting Monday.

People who may be at a higher risk for flu complications are urged to get the immunization as soon as possible but there will be no screening at clinics to make sure those people are vaccinated before healthy people, said health officials.

Some provinces, including Ontario and Manitoba, have reserved the first wave of vaccines for people with risk factors such as chronic health conditions and for health-care workers and those who live in remote locations.

But health officials in Alberta said Wednesday they’re confident they will have enough doses of the vaccine to make it available to everyone at the same time.

“We expect the vaccine to arrive in shipments every few days over the next period of weeks and given that there’s only so much vaccine we can deliver in any given day, we think we’ll have more than sufficient vaccine to keep the clinics going for as long as people want,” said Dr. Gerry Predy, senior medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services.

Canada has so far received two million doses of the vaccine from a total of 50 million ordered from the supplier. Alberta is expecting to have 400,000 doses on hand by Monday.

Alberta’s 44 First Nations are also set to begin vaccinations Monday, said Dr. Hakique Virani, deputy medical officer of health with Health Canada’s First Nations branch.

The reserves have been stocked with enough vaccine to inoculate everyone who lives there and family members who live off-reserve and might decide to come home, he said.

People should call clinics to make sure they are offering the vaccine and should be prepared to wait in line, said Predy.

The vaccines have arrived just as the second wave of infections in the province seems to be on the rise, said Dr. Andre Corriveau, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.

There has been a sharp increase in clusters of flu-like symptoms in the province over the last couple of weeks, showing the second wave of the pandemic is underway, he said. The number of people hospitalized with such symptoms has also risen.

More than 25 schools have reported a 10 per cent absence rate, a marker health officials use to point to a suspected influenza outbreak.

“We are certainly expecting that this trend will accelerate, as it is happening also in other parts of the country,” said Corriveau.

The best way to protect against the spread is for as many people as possible to be vaccinated, he said. Health officials are hoping to eventually give the vaccine to between 60 and 75 per cent of the population.

“I urge all Albertans to get this vaccine, not only to protect themselves but to protect those that are around that may be at higher risk and to do as much as we can to stop the spread of the virus as soon as possible,” he said.