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Simcoe Muskoka health unit gearing up for flu season

Cheryl Browne

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

Ontario is making a nasal flu vaccine available to kids this year.

Ontario is making a nasal flu vaccine available to kids this year.

As this year's  influenza wave prepares to hit North America, the World Health Organization (WHO) is hoping this year's vaccine hits its mark.

Last year was an incredibly atypical year, said Dr. Colin Lee, associate medical officer of health at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

“It was a terrible mismatch. The flu strain that circulated didn't match what was in the vaccine. That was very rare,” Dr. Lee said. “But we should be back to 60% coverage this year.”

The medical officer of health explained that the flu strains determined for each year's vaccination are chosen nine months before the beginning of the flu season, which typically begins in November.

During last year's flu season, when it was determined they'd targeted the wrong strain, Lee said they “can't just put the brakes on and stop production.”

This year, the vaccine for adults covers three strains of the flu, two type-A strains and one type-B.

For children under 18, the vaccination will cover both types of A and B strains, Lee said, because type-B generally shows as a more serious illness in those under the age of 18.

To date, there has been a mini-outbreak of influenza type-A in Huntsville, where several people came down with the flu, including two adults in a retirement residence.

This year, children over the age of two can take the vaccination by a nasal spray instead of the dreaded needle. “Studies have shown the nasal vaccinations give better much protection to those between the ages of two and five,” Dr. Lee said.

Pharmacies will begin offering both needle and nasal vaccinations during the week of Oct. 26, but they aren't allowed to give the nasal spray to children under five years of age at this point. However, nurse practitioners and physicians will begin offering the nasal vaccination this week.

People without doctors are asked to visit walk-in clinics or visit for the province's flu vaccination clinic locator (available next week) for the nearest flu clinic.

Kathy Dermott, spokesperson for the health unit, said they will no longer be offering flu-shot clinics, but families with children under the age of five without a health-care provider, and those who don't have an Ontario health card, can make an appointment with the health unit by calling 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520.

Dermott said once pharmacies began offering flu shots, the health unit clinics' attendance dropped off dramatically and by the end of flu season had only immunized about approximately 3,200 people, she said.  “Pharmacies are much more convenient and they have better hours."

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