Flu death of woman in Okanagan Valley prompts advice to get shots

By on January 15, 2014
Pharmacist Michelle Sun at Shoppers Drug Mart sticks a needle into the shoulder of Osoyoos Times Reporter Richard McGuire in this file photo from last year. McGuire got his shot early this year. (File photo)

Pharmacist Michelle Sun at Shoppers Drug Mart sticks a needle into the shoulder of Osoyoos Times Reporter Richard McGuire in this file photo from last year. McGuire got his shot early this year. (File photo)

There’s no need to panic, but people should get their flu shot, says Interior Health following the flu-related death of an Okanagan woman a couple of weeks ago.

Medical Health Officer Dr. Rob Parker said a good portion of adults have chosen not to get the flu shot, “but they may want to reconsider.”

Parker said getting the vaccine is like putting snow tires on your vehicle – it’s a preventative measure.

He acknowledged that demand for the vaccine has increased since the death of the Okanagan woman in her 50s. She contracted the H1N1 virus, but it wasn’t reported if she had a pre-existing health problem.

Parker said the H1N1 strain impacts working age adults age 20-55.

He noted this age group does not have as much immunity as seniors who have built up their defences over the years and get their flu shot annually.

Parker said flu season is not at its worst yet, noting it should reach its peak in a week or two.

The medical health officer confirmed there is a shortage of the vaccine, with pharmacies requesting more from their local health units.

Steven Hopp, head pharmacist from Shoppers Drug Mart in Osoyoos, said they are in short supply but are hoping to get more this week.

Customers are encouraged to call the pharmacy first before coming in to get the vaccine. If the pharmacy doesn’t have any, people can be placed on a waiting (priority) list, Hopp said.

The pharmacist noted they went through a lot of the vaccine in October and November and are now facing more demand from people who haven’t got the shot yet.

He suspects that many people who chose not to get the vaccine are now changing their minds based on what the media has been reporting about H1N1.

Hopp dispelled the myth that you can get the flu from the vaccine.

“It’s not physically possible to contract the flu from the flu vaccine,” he said emphatically.

Parker said the vaccine does contain the flu virus, but it’s a “killed virus” that cannot infect anyone.

He noted that people who report getting the flu after getting the shot already had the virus and were too late in getting the vaccine. He stated it takes about two weeks before the vaccine is effective in warding off the flu.

Parker admitted the vaccine is not a guarantee that you won’t get the flu, but it will lessen its severity if you do become ill.

He acknowledged that some people are wary of micro-ingredients in vaccines (such as mercury-based thimerosal, aluminum and formaldehyde), but said there are far more of these ingredients in food products than in vaccines.

In fact, there are higher safety standards for vaccines than those that govern pharmaceutical drugs, he pointed out.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there is no scientific link between vaccines containing thimerosal and autism or other behavioural disorders.

ImmunizeBC states that thimerosal has not been used in any routine childhood vaccine since 2001, except for the flu vaccine. Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative present in small amounts in the flu vaccine to prevent bacterial and fungal growth.

It should be noted that only multi-dose vials of the vaccine contain thimerosal – it is not in single syringes, according to Interior Health.

Parker said there are about a dozen confirmed cases of influenza “A” (H1N1 strain) in the Okanagan. The only way to prevent it is having the flu shot, he stated. People can also reduce the risk by frequently washing their hands as some of the virus can live on surfaces, he pointed out. But most of the virus is airborne, Parker noted.

The doctor said people who come down with a sore throat or a cough should stay home.

As for getting the vaccine, that could prove challenging.

Jay Patel, staff pharmacist at Shoppers Drug Mart in Oliver, said they are also running low on supply.

As of last Thursday, they only had four or five shots left.

“We’re in the process of getting more from the health unit.”

Patel said because of the “rush” of people coming in to get the vaccine, the pharmacy ran out in four days.

Parker said if people have difficulty finding the vaccine, they should call their local health unit.

Parker believes school districts might see more student absences because of the flu, but that hasn’t happened yet in School District 53, according to superintendent Bev Young.

“Schools are supposed to inform their assigned health nurse and our office if they have absences of 10 per cent or more. As of today (January 9), we have not received any such notifications.”

At a media conference in Victoria, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall said the influenza season in B.C. is moderate to severe, with a number of people being hospitalized for it.

Kendall said the H1N1 virus is predominantly prevented by being vaccinated.

During the conference, he talked about the recent H5N1 (bird flu) case in Alberta involving the death of an Edmonton resident – the first such case in North America.

The resident travelled to China for the Christmas holidays and spent two to five hours at Vancouver airport on December 27.

Kendall said human-to-human transmission of H5N1 is very rare, noting the vast majority of cases are contracted from infected poultry.

“It is very unlikely that passengers were put at risk (at Vancouver airport),” said Kendall, who confirmed there are no cases of H5N1 detected in B.C. to date.

LYONEL DOHERTY

Special to the Times

 

 

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