Alberta's plan for dealing with a flu pandemic is in place and preparations are underway to immunize Albertans as soon as a swine flu vaccination is available, the province's chief medical officer of health said Thursday, after the World Health Organization declared an H1N1 pandemic.
"Really in Alberta, it doesn't change anything for us," Dr. André Corriveau said of the WHO announcement. "We're following our plan and continuing to do what we've been doing, really, since the beginning of May."
The WHO officially declared a pandemic Thursday because of how the virus is spreading from person to person in a sustained manner around the world. The change to a Phase 6 alert level doesn't mean the virus has become more severe or is causing more deaths.
The pandemic alert is meant to send a signal to governments around the world to spend more on containing the virus and for drugmakers to hasten work on development of a vaccine.
Speaking to reporters in Calgary on Thursday, Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert shrugged off the pandemic declaration.
"Nothing will really change in Alberta. That's more of an international declaration," he said. "My understanding of the World Health Organization rating is not relative to severity, but to the extent of the countries it has impacted. So whether it is a four, five, or six [on the scale] doesn't really matter at the local level."
Vaccinations could start this fall
Corriveau, who was in Edmonton holding a news conference, said the plan will likely include swine flu vaccinations in the fall, when cases are expected to increase after waning over the summer.
"That's certainly one of the top priorities right now is to … polish our plan," he said. "We still have to work out some of the details. We don't expect this vaccine to be available to us until the end of October or possibly even early November."
Pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease are at a higher risk for flu and will get priority when a vaccine is available, Corriveau said.
"So there shouldn't be just a free-for-all but an organized roll-out, that we start with people who are most vulnerable and then roll it out to the whole community on a gradual basis," he said.
Alberta's pandemic plan — developed by Alberta Health and Wellness and the Alberta Emergency Management Agency — is a "work in progress" that will be updated as the situation changes, according to a government news release.
The goal of the provincial plan is "to reduce illness and death due to influenza and minimize disruptions to the daily life of Albertans." It will be used along with plans set up by Alberta Health Services and municipalities, as well as the Canadian pandemic influenza plan for the health sector.
As of Thursday, Alberta had 216 confirmed cases of the H1N1 swine flu.