The flu vaccine could be delayed up to a month this year, which means that the flu season could hit Ottawa before the vaccine is widely available here, warns the medical health agent Vera Etches.
That warning, contained in a report to the Ottawa Health Council, comes when Australia has just experienced a severe flu season, mainly due to its unusually early start. Usually the flu season starts in mid-June in Australia, but this year, cases began to appear as early as mid-March.
While the Australian flu season does not necessarily predict the severity or nature of the North American flu season – as the predominant influenza viruses can vary and change – it can be predictive, which is why public health officials pay attention.
The flu season generally begins in mid-November in Ottawa. The vaccine is normally available a month earlier, Etches said.
But this year, the Ministry of Health has indicated that sufficient stocks of vaccines will be available in October for those at higher risk. Vaccines for the general public will be available at the beginning of November. People are usually not completely immune for a week or two after being vaccinated.
"There will be the vaccine available in October, but it's a question of how much vaccine," Etches said. He added that those at high risk, including the elderly, those with chronic heart and lung disease and others, will have priority in October.
Due to the delay, Ottawa Public Health moved its public flu clinics until the first week of November. The influence usually reaches the apex in Ottawa in late December.
If Ottawa experiences a flu season similar to that seen in Australia, some people could get sick before they can access the flu vaccine.
Last year, during a less severe flu season, there were 1,134 cases and 18 deaths reported to Ottawa Public Health. However, most cases are never reported. It is estimated that up to 8% of the population can be infected each season.
The World Health Organization recommends the content of the annual influenza vaccine for the northern and southern hemispheres. This year the recommendation for the vaccine in the northern hemisphere has been postponed by one month, "which could have implications for the supply of vaccines and timely availability," Etches said in its report to the health committee.
The high dose vaccine will continue to be publicly funded for people over the age of 65. It protects against two strains of influenza A and a strain of influenza B and contains four times the antigens of the general influenza vaccine and offers greater protection to the elderly, he said. It is not yet known whether the high dose vaccine will be available at this year's pharmacy.
The standard dose quadravivalent vaccine, which will receive most people, includes immunization against influenza A virus strains H1N1 and H3N2 and two influenza B viruses. The high dose vaccine , for people over the age of 65, includes immunization against influenza A viruses H1N1 and H3N2 and an influenza B virus.
During the influenza season 2018/19, 86% of the inhabitants of Ottawa aged over 65 were vaccinated, compared to 46% for those between 18 and 64. Less than 50% of adults between the ages of 18 and 64 with chronic medical conditions have been vaccinated – well below the national target of 80 percent.
Ottawa Public Health plans to limit the spread of influenza, especially if the flu season starts early before vaccines are widely available.
This includes asking primary care providers to extend their hours so that people can avoid using emergency rooms if possible. Public health officials are also working with health facilities with a history of outbreaks before the flu season starts trying to reduce spread and severity.
In addition to undergoing an influenza vaccine, Ottawa Public Health recommends people to wash their hands often with soap and water, hand sanitizer, cough cough and sneeze with arms and stay home if they are sick.
Publicly funded vaccines against influenza are available in Ontario for anyone over six months old. Vaccines are available in pharmacies for those five years of age.
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer for the health of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and a spokesman for Immunize Canada, confirmed that his health unit was also told they will not be able to start clinics public for the influence until the beginning of November, although the exact date has not been finalized.
"Generally, we start a week or two earlier. It's not so late if it arrives at the beginning of November. "
Meanwhile, he said that eastern Ontario health officials are monitoring the situation if, as in Australia, the flu season starts at the beginning of this year.
"A sporadic case here and there won't worry me. What we monitor are outbreaks. "So far, he said, there have been no clusters or outbreaks that could mark an unusually early start.
"If we start seeing outbreaks earlier, we will have to talk to the ministry." Antiviral medicine is an option for outbreaks in institutions and in long-term care homes.
The ideal situation, he said, is to have the vaccine available as soon as possible and, in the meantime: "Wash your hands and sneeze in your sleeve".
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