H1N1 vaccine may soon be available at doctors offices to help immunize Central Albertans.
Gerhard Benadé, medical officer of health with the central zone of Alberta Health Services, said discussion is now underway with physicians and staff training will begin next week.
“We’re not exactly sure at this point how many of the offices will be interested in participating. But we’re certainly willing to work with all clinics that are interested,” Benadé said on Friday in Red Deer.
It could really help reach those who need the vaccine the most, he said.
“(Doctors) know their patients. They will be able to identify individuals that are at risk more clearly.”
Additional staff from a variety of health-care settings are also being trained to speed up the vaccination process.
H1N1 clinics in Central Alberta this week attracted thousands of people, more than could be accommodated at several clinics.
“As of (Thursday), we’ve immunized more than 15,000 in the central zone. In Red Deer alone (on Thursday), more than 2,500,” said Benadé.
About 40 nurses staffed the Red Deer clinic at CrossRoads Church on Thursday where people waited in line for up to seven hours for vaccinations and traffic backed up from the church at the corner of Hwy 2 and 32nd Street, all the way to the Red Deer College entrance.
Police had to be called to direct traffic.
“They usually maintain a rate of 300 patient vaccinations an hour. So that’s a pretty brisk rate.”
The clinic held Friday in Sundre experienced long lines and wait times as well.
Despite the long lineups, Benadé said mass immunization clinics are still the most efficient way of administering the vaccine right now.
“As we continue to move through the process, we will look for opportunities to improve on that,” he said.
Alberta Health Services has promised more clinics. Benadé said people should “stay tuned” and keep checking the AHS website as the immunization program continues.
According to H1N1 surveillance, the flu continues to circulate in communities across Alberta.
In Red Deer, there has been a 30 to 40 per cent surge in visits to the hospital’s emergency department and one-third of them are due to influenza-like illness.
To reduce emergency visits, influenza assessment centres in Edmonton, Calgary and Wetaskiwin are now open seven days a week to treat people with mild flu symptoms.
“It’s a pretty dynamic situation. We’re keeping a close watch on it to make sure existing services cope,” said Benadé when asked if a similar centre could open in Red Deer.
Alberta Health Services remains committed to vaccinating all Albertans who want the vaccine.
“The campaign will continue to run, likely up to Christmas, so there will be enough vaccine for everybody. But we would like to get to the vulnerable people first.”
High-risk populations include pregnant women, children six months to less than five years of age, people under 65 with chronic health conditions, people living in remote and isolated settings, health-care workers involved in pandemic response, and people in households with individuals who are vulnerable and cannot be immunized for whatever reason.
But Alberta’s top health officials say they won’t make any immediate changes to the way the province is rolling out the H1N1 vaccinations, despite public anger at long lines and a looming shortage of vaccine.
Dr. Andre Corriveau, the province’s chief medical officer of health, says while they’re still focusing on giving the shot to the high-risk groups, health-care workers won’t refuse to vaccinate anyone.
Dr. Gerry Predy, chief medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services, says screening people in lineups to make sure they’re in high-risk groups would require too much staff and would slow things down.
He also says it would be difficult to make someone prove they have asthma or some other underlying health condition before they are vaccinated.
Predy says officials could change their approach to the vaccine rollout in the future, considering that Alberta is receiving less vaccine than expected due to production delays.
The province has used roughly half of the 600,000 doses of vaccine it has received so far.
While challenges are expected in the vaccine supply, Benadé said AHS wants to assure Albertans that it is administering the vaccine as fast as it becomes available from Public Health Agency of Canada.
There are two clinics scheduled in Red Deer next week. The first one is Tuesday at Westerner Park’s Harvest Centre from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The next one is Thursday at Kentwood Alliance Church, 4 Kennedy Drive, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Westerner Park recently started charging for parking at major events. On Tuesday, there will be no charge for flu vaccination traffic until 5 p.m. After 5 p.m., there will be a charge because a major entertainment event (Corb Lund concert) is scheduled.
For the locations and dates of other immunization clinics in Red Deer and around Central Alberta, call 1-866-408-5465 or go to www.albertahealthservices.ca