16 confirmed cases of the flu in N.L., but more vaccinations than last year

With a couple of months left in flu season, John Haggie says the numbers show that more people were vaccinated than last year.

Health Minister says 6 people hospitalized, with 2 ending up in intensive care

Newfoundland and Labrador has seen a slight increase in its flu vaccination rate over last year. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

With a couple of months left in flu season, more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been vaccinated than last year, says the province's health minister.

John Haggie told CBC's On the Go on Thursday that since the start of flu clinics in October, 109,783 vaccines have been administered, compared with 106,077 over the entire flu season last year.

Last fall, when the provincial government stopped paying doctors to administer the shots as a cost-cutting measure, the group that represents physicians warned the vaccination rate would go down and cost the province more through increased hospital admissions.

Health Minister John Haggie says Newfoundland and Labrador has had 16 lab-confirmed cases of the flu so far this season. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

But although there has been a spike in flu cases in Canada and the U.S., so far Newfoundland and Labrador has been largely spared, although half a dozen people have been sick enough to be hospitalized.

Haggie said there have been 16 lab-confirmed cases so far this flu season, with six of those cases requiring hospitalization; of those six, two people wound up in intensive care.

He warned the province could see still see an increase in the number of people coming down with the flu.​

"We normally have two peaks in our flu season," he said.

"We get a second one, usually, late February or March, so we're still very keen to build on the vaccination program. Whatever the strains that are out there, the efficacy of the vaccine is really only apparent at the end of the season, and your best defence against flu is the flu shot."

Dr. Lynn Dwyer, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, says the provincial vaccination rate would be even higher if the provincial government still paid doctors to administer the shots. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Despite the slight increase this year, Haggie said the province's vaccination coverage — about 21 per cent of residents have had a shot — isn't good, apart from the youngest and oldest in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Long-term care residents are all vaccinated, pushing the rate among people 65 and up to 90 per cent, he said, while 98 per cent of children get a shot.

Association wants costs released

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association last year criticized the provincial decision to stop paying doctors to give the shot in favour of more free clinics.

A statement released Wednesday afternoon on behalf of association president Dr. Lynn Dwyer praised the "tremendous extra effort by public health nurses who stepped up to the plate."

The statement also referenced "the many family doctors in the province who continued to administer flu shots out of concern for their patients' well-being despite government's decision to no longer pay them to do so."

According to the medical association, the number of vaccinations would have increased by even more if the provincial government were still working with doctors, and it urged the government to release the extra costs of the flu-shot delivery program, "so that a full assessment of the value for money can be undertaken."