Young children only when Alberta vaccine clinics reopen

Alberta's swine flu vaccination clinics will resume Thursday, but only for children older than six months and less than five years old.
Dr. Gerry Predy, left, and Dr. Andre Corriveau explain the next stage of Alberta's H1N1 immunization program Tuesday at a news conference. ((CBC))

Alberta's swine flu vaccination clinics will resume Thursday, but only for children older than six months and less than five years old.

Parents will be asked to provide proof of age, and family members who line up with their children won't be vaccinated.

On Friday, the clinics will be expanded to include pregnant women, who will be able to get a non-boosted version of the vaccine. They won't be asked to prove they are pregnant.

The vaccine targets the strain of H1N1 influenza A virus responsible for the current swine flu pandemic. Alberta abruptly suspended its clinics on Saturday, blaming a vaccine shortage and overwhelmed health-care workers.

"Basically, over the next few days, we are going to focus exclusively on those two groups," said Dr. André Corriveau, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.

"People don't all have to rush first thing Thursday morning. We have enough vaccine to do all the pregnant women and all the children under five."

Eligibility depends on supply

More high-risk groups, including parents of babies under six months, could be added to the list of people eligible for vaccination depending on supplies, said Dr. Gerry Predy, Alberta Health Services' senior medical officer of health.

Last week, Alberta Health was also urging vaccinations for people under 65 with chronic health conditions, people living in remote communities and for those who have contact with high-risk people who cannot be immunized or might not respond to vaccines.

"We are prioritizing the priority groups," Predy said Tuesday.

Details on flu shot locations and times will be posted on the Alberta Health Services website. Calgary is getting an additional vaccination clinic at the Stampede Grandstand, and Edmonton will get a new clinic at the Commonwealth Stadium.

The goal is to keep the waiting time at the clinics to one hour, Predy said, which means people who don't meet the criteria won't be given a shot.

"We don't want people showing up who we will then have to turn away because it makes it difficult for everybody involved," he said.

Unlike other provinces, Alberta did not limit vaccinations last week to high-risk groups such as pregnant women, young children and people under 65 with chronic health conditions. Demand for the vaccine was high all week, and clinics in Edmonton and Calgary had to turn people away Saturday.

Corriveau again defended the province's initial approach to the vaccinations.

"I think we did what we thought was the best at the time," he said. "It's really the vaccine shortage that prompted this decision and that couldn't have been anticipated."

Fewer doses shipped to provinces

Health officials say 372,000 Albertans have been inoculated so far. As of Monday, the province still had about 190,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine.

Inoculating Alberta inmates

Three institutions in Alberta — Edmonton Institution, Edmonton Institution for Women, and the minimum-security Grierson Centre — received the H1N1 vaccine this week, but it's unclear if any inmates have been given shots.

Only prisoners at the highest risk of getting H1N1, such as pregnant women and those under 65 years old with chronic medical conditions, will get the vaccine, said Caroline McNicoll, a spokeswoman for Correctional Services of Canada.

Manufacturers are slowing down deliveries of vaccine doses containing an adjuvant, an additive that improves the response to the vaccine by boosting the immune system, to focus on producing adjuvant-free doses, which is the form of the vaccine recommended for pregnant women.

The Public Health Agency of Canada expects Alberta will receive 47,000 doses of vaccine with adjuvant and 28,000 doses of the vaccine without adjuvant this week. In previous weeks, Alberta received more than 200,000 doses of the vaccine with the adjuvant.

Provincial health officials don't yet have final numbers on how many doses of swine flu vaccine they expect to receive next week.

So far, 14 people have died in Alberta after contracting swine flu and 314 people have been hospitalized. In the majority of cases of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths, the patients have known underlying conditions, say health officials.

Over the course of a normal flu season, one in 10 adults and one in three children will catch the flu. Health Canada says between 4,000 and 8,000 Canadians — mostly seniors — die from pneumonia related to flu, and others die from other serious complications of flu.