B.C. launches flu vaccination blitz after deaths of 6 children and youth
Drop-in clinics running Friday, Saturday and Sunday across the province
Days after confirming six children and youth have died after contracting influenza this fall, the British Columbia government is launching a flu vaccine blitz, opening drop-in clinics across the province.
The clinics launch Friday and will run through the weekend.
The province will also be providing weekly updates on flu-related deaths, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday.
The six who have died this fall included a child under the age of five, three between the ages of five and nine, and two teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19.
Henry said the flu season has been unusual, with an early and serious surge in cases.
B.C. health officials have urged parents to have children vaccinated against the flu, citing a "dramatic increase" in cases of influenza A, a strain which can cause severe illness in children.
Henry said the vaccines being distributed to children is able to target influenza A and encouraged people to take advantage of the weekend's walk-in clinics.
This year, the province has made influenza vaccines free for everyone aged six months and older. No appointments are necessary but, if preferred, can be made online.
Drop-in clinic locations and hours can be found through local health authority websites:
Visits to ERs 'off the chart': doctor
On Friday, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control issued a statement saying the deadly spike in acute respiratory illness is showing signs of stabilizing.
It says although test positivity remains high for both influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the numbers have levelled off in the past week.
However, health officials are still urging caution.
Watch | How parents can navigate this year's unprecedented flu season:
Dr. Michael Curry, an emergency room physician and clinical associate professor with UBC's department of emergency medicine, said the number of people visiting emergency rooms with respiratory illnesses were "off the chart" compared to previous years — rising to levels higher than he'd ever seen, even pre-pandemic.
"[Respiratory illnesses are] really just coming into the emergency room in unprecedented numbers," he told CBC Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.
LISTEN | Dr. Michael Curry on surge in cases of respiratory illness:
Pediatric hospitals across the country have seen a surge in respiratory viruses including RSV and influenza for a number of reasons, including a return to levels of activity close to pre-pandemic levels, and interaction kids and adults are having with each other after two years marked by reduced activity, distancing rules and masking that saw a decrease in diseases being spread within the population.
"Our body hasn't been dealing with flu viruses over the past couple of years," Curry said.
In an interview with CBC Daybreak South host Chris Walker, Henry said officials are still trying to "piece together," the reason behind the rise in illness that is being seen in B.C. and other jurisdictions as distant as Australia and New Zealand.
"Is it because we have such a large group of children that have not been exposed to influenza for two years?" she asked. "Or is this a more severe strain, or [is] it a combination?"
Henry also said the province is not yet at the point where it is considering reintroducing public health rules such as mandatory masking or limited gatherings, as has been the case over the past two holiday seasons.
But she said it is still important to wash hands, stay home while sick and wear a mask for an extra layer of protection.
Curry said while it is reasonable to continue going to school, travel and gather over the holidays after so many years apart, he encouraged people to take lessons from COVID-19 on best practices for preventing the spread of disease.
"Our experience during the pandemic has really shown that masking, distancing, definitely had a dramatic impact, almost virtually eliminating the flu in British Columbia until this year."
LISTEN | Panel discussion on whether to bring back mask mandates:
With files from The Canadian Press