Alberta to begin swine flu vaccinations

Albertans should be able to line up for swine flu shots at mass vaccination clinics across the province on Monday, health officials have announced.
People line up for seasonal flu shots at a clinic in Calgary's Brentwood Village Mall. ((CBC))
Albertans should be able to line up for swine flu shots at mass vaccination clinics across the province on Monday, health officials have announced.

The free H1N1 influenza shots will be available to every Albertan over six months, with anyone at risk of developing a more severe illness encouraged to get their shot early. The shot will be initially offered through mass vaccination clinics and won't be available in settings such as doctors' offices or workplaces until mid-November.

"While there are higher risks groups that are encouraged to get the vaccine first, I urge all Albertans to get this vaccine," said Dr. André Corriveau, Alberta's chief medical officer of health on Wednesday.

"Not only to protect themselves but to protect those that are around them that may be at higher risk and to do as much as we can to stop the spread of the virus as soon as possible over this coming season."

The vaccine has  undergone rigorous testing processes and clinical trials around the world and is established to be safe, he said.

Alberta experiences 2nd flu wave

Alberta is in the first week of a second wave of H1N1 influenza, said Dr. Gerry Predy, Alberta's senior medical officer of health.

Most people are experiencing mild illness and are being treated at home. So far this year, H1N1 influenza has sent about 160 people to Alberta hospital, with eight people dying. Since students returned to the classroom last month, 25 schools across the province have reported absentee rates of more than 10 per cent.

Information about the mass vaccination clinics will be available on Alberta Health Service's website.

"We want them to be patient because they may have to wait in line for a while," said Predy. "What we are trying to do here is protect as many people as possible in a short a period of time."

By Monday, Alberta should have 400,000 doses of the vaccine available and with more shipments coming in every few days, health officials say there will be enough to vaccinate everyone who wants the shot. Predy hopes to see between 65 and 70 per cent of the population immunized.

Alberta's flu season isn't over until mid-April.

The federal government has also ordered 1.8 million doses without the adjuvant for pregnant women and young children, but health officials in Alberta said those won't be available until Nov. 9. Corriveau said he would encourage pregnant women not to wait and get the shot with the adjuvant.

Seasonal flu shot will still be available

Alberta began offering a free seasonal flu shot on Oct. 13. The original plan was to stop offering that shot once a vaccine against H1N1 became available, but health officials said Wednesday that both shots will be offered where possible.

As long as each shot is given in a different arm, the H1N1 and seasonal shots can be administered in the same visit, said Corriveau. The H1N1 vaccine won't be fully effective until two weeks after the shot is given.

Earlier Wednesday, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced that the H1N1 vaccine has been approved for rollout across Canada. The approval only applies to the form that contains the adjuvant.

The federal government had already shipped more than two million doses of the H1N1 influenza A vaccine across the country in anticipation of the approval.

Canadian public health officials are urging those most vulnerable to serious complications from the virus — such as pregnant women, young children, people living in remote and isolated communities, and adults with chronic conditions — to consider getting the vaccine as soon as it becomes available where they live.