By Jasmine Franklin
H1N1 vaccines will be the focus of this year’s flu season, with vaccinations starting in November, interrupting the regular flu-season immunization process.
In a press conference Oct. 1, Minister of Health and Wellness Ron Liepert said Albertans need to do their part in protecting not only themselves, but those around them, by getting immunized for H1N1.
“Many Albertans aren’t taking this seriously,” Liepert said. “It’s not just about protecting yourself but your family and friends — I’m going to get immunized.”
Albertans however will have only one month to get immunized for the seasonal flu before those vaccinations are interrupted and the H1N1 vaccine is introduced.
Clinics will begin giving seasonal flu shots Oct. 13 through mass immunization clinics and seniors lodges, until November when the H1N1 vaccine arrives. The H1N1 vaccine will be given until the Christmas holidays and seasonal flu shots will commence in the new year.
So far, 129 Albertans have been hospitalized for H1N1 — eight have died.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Andre′ Corriveau, said the reason both immunizations can’t be given jointly is because there’s no clinical data to ensure that is safe.
“The important thing to remember is that no one is immune to H1N1,” Dr.Corriveau said. “In the southern hemisphere 70 to 90 per cent of flu strains were H1N1.”
Officials urge that high-risk individuals receive vaccinations first. For the seasonal flu, priority vaccinations include those over the age of 65, health care workers and children between six and 23 months old. Liepert stressed however, anyone who wishes to be vaccinated will not be turned away.
High-risk individuals for H1N1 are different — anyone under the age of 65 with a chronic or pre-disposed illness, pregnant woman and those in remote communities. Parents are urged to have their infant children vaccinated.
Contact has been made with homeless shelters to ensure the vaccine will be available and that information has been circulated on the virus and precautionary measures such as proper hand-washing instruction.
Dr. Gerry Predy, Alberta Health Services senior medical officer of health, said the H1N1 plan is available on the Alberta Health website and is subject to change as more information about H1N1 is discovered.
“Depending on the degree of the situation, the plan will contemplate treating people in communities and at home,” Predy said. “The plan is adaptable and covers a wide range of areas. It’s not static — as we learn more about the virus we will adapt the plan.”
Pandemic plans unveiled for Wolfe Creek schools
Wolf Creek Public Schools has budgeted $45,000 to prepare schools for a possible H1N1 pandemic this school year.
With talks of H1N1 in the air throughout the summer and the new school-year months, Wolf Creek School’s board trustees are taking no chances. Schools will be equipped with hand sanitizers, gloves, gowns, cleaning materials and even isolation rooms, said Chris Banbury, occupational health and safety co-coordinator.
“We are prepared should a situation arise.”
Also available will be counsellors in the event of a H1N1 pandemic occurs to talk to children and parents effected.
Banbury said the virus tends to attack those with weaker immune systems including infants and toddlers, seniors or those with an illness such as pneumonia.
“As of right now, vaccines are not available,” Banbury said. “When it is available, anyone over six months will be able to receive the vaccine.”
It is still unknown if the vaccine will be offered through the schools.
A newsletter has been drafted with information on the H1N1 virus, prevention tips, measures the board has taken to prepare for the possible outbreak and guidelines on how to use the supplies.
The newsletters will be given out to all students once the schools receive the letters.
Hand sanitizers have been placed in every classroom of all schools.
In the event a child becomes sick, nurses at the schools have the obligation to protect staff and students by sending them home, Banbury said. In extreme cases, the child will be looked after by the nurse until a parent or guardian can pick them up.
The Canadian government will release the H1N1 vaccine in November.