Flu clinic cancelled in Prince Albert

Jodi Schellenberg
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An influx of influenza from Alberta sent many people in the health region looking to get vaccinated.

The Prince Albert Parkland Health Region had to cancel a flu clinic in city due to lack of supplies. Once more vaccine is shipped out, the region will schedule another clinic.

The Prince Albert Parkland Health Region had two planned flu clinics -- one on Friday and one on Monday -- but due to an influx of people looking for the vaccine, the Monday afternoon clinic in Prince Albert was cancelled.

“As you know, we ran flu clinics at the end of October and early November and generally had flu clinics throughout the region plus here in P.A. once a week right through until the second week of December,” director of Public Health Services for PAPHR Wanda Atcheson said. “That is typically when most people come in and get their flu shots but because there has been additional cases of flu recently in Alberta and few more cases here too in Saskatchewan, we were asked by the Ministry (of Health) to put some additional flu clinics in.”

The response for the additional clinics has been unbelievable, with 200 people attending the clinic on Friday afternoon and 250 attending the one Monday morning.

“We were able to do this morning but this afternoon we thought it was just better to cancel and let people know before they came in here in cold weather that we just didn’t have enough vaccine to continue,” Atcheson said.

Since it is so cold out, it is difficult to get more vaccine supply from the ministry out to the health regions, she said.

“We have not yet received out additional supply of vaccine -- that is why we had to cancel,” Atcheson said. “It is not that there is a major shortage or anything, it is just that we are temporarily out of stock, waiting for our next supply to come.”

Atcheson explained when it is so cold, they will not ship vaccines because there is a greater risk of freezing.

“Vaccines need to stay at specific temperatures and so you don’t want them too warm or too cold,” Atcheson said. “When you are keeping them at the correct temperature that is how they are more effective. When it gets really cold, the shipping companies will not carry those vaccines out to the regions.”

The region is hoping to get more vaccine within the next few days and once they receive it they will plan another half-day flu clinic.

Although they are putting on more flu clinics this month, Atcheson said January is not the best time to be getting a flu shot.

“The best way to protect yourself by a flu shot is to get it early enough that you have been able to develop a good immunity and then you won’t get the flu or at least get a lesser case,” Atcheson said. “Really, we strongly encourage people to come in when we are offering them in October because we want them to get immunized before flu season starts. That’s why we don’t wait until December to do flu clinics because by then the flu is already actively circulating.”

Usually the flu clinics are finished by the second week of December.

“We end up giving some to people who are travelling to other countries and we continue to give influenza vaccines to babies who turn six months right through until the end of March because it can only be given once they are at six months so we want to make sure they receive their protection as well,” Atcheson said. “For the rest of the public we offer intensive clinics so people could get in.”

The other reason many people are deciding to get their flu shot now is because the flu season started later than normal this year, she said.

“Influenza season generally starts in November when you start to see some cases,” Atcheson said. “It has arrived a little bit late this season. We were seeing cases now closer to the holidays.”

Although it has started later, Atcheson said the flu season is different every year.

“Typically we have a couple of peaks of flu -- there will be a peak, then it will go down and then back up again later in the flu season,” she said.

The H1N1 virus is not more dangerous than other influenza strains, Atcheson said, and it is no longer a pandemic strain but has become seasonal.

The main difference between H1N1 and other strains is “it seems to have a younger age group that are susceptible to it as opposed to the other types that really cause more problems for some of the elderly.”

Other than affecting a different age group, H1N1 is very similar to other flu strains, she said.

“The other problem is, if people have underlying health conditions, then they are more at risk for complications from (all) influenza,” Atcheson said. “Many of us will get influenza -- you might not have a bad case, just a mild case but people who have underlying health conditions will often get complications like pneumonia or just become more ill from it.”

There are also other respiratory viruses that are circulating right not as well, she said.

“Just because someone has symptoms that are similar to the influenza, it might be the influenza but it might be something else as well,” Atcheson said.

A new supply of vaccine was expected to be in the city by Monday afternoon and a flu clinic is scheduled for Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Mac Mall.

Until people are able to get the vaccine, there are other ways to stay safe.

“There are other ways to protect yourself against all disease as well and one of the best ways is to make sure people use good hand washing,” Atcheson said. “Also cover your cough and cough into your elbow not your hand and when people are ill, just stay home.”

For more past stories about flu season, click here.

Organizations: Public Health Services for PAPHR Wanda Atcheson

Geographic location: Alberta, Saskatchewan

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