Swine flu shots will soon be available

The Yukon is more than ready for the swine flu season. The Yukon government has 55,000 doses of the vaccine stockpiled in health facilities around the territory.

The Yukon is more than ready for the swine flu season.

The Yukon government has 55,000 doses of the vaccine stockpiled in health facilities around the territory. This is in anticipation of a swine flu pandemic that is expected to hit its peak in four to six weeks, said chief medical officer Brendan Hanley.

The Yukon government will begin administering vaccinations Monday, after it was given the go-ahead this week from Health Canada.

The vaccine will be available to everyone, but there will be a special emphasis on inoculating health-care professionals, pregnant women, young children and aboriginal people, said Hanley.

It won’t be mandatory for frontline health-care workers to get the shot, even though they regularly come in contact with sick people.

“It probably wouldn’t be good timing to begin telling health-care workers that it is mandatory to take it,” Hanley said.

A campaign like that requires a good deal of education beforehand, he said.

“If we were to do it overnight, it would risk backfiring on us.”

The Canada Games Centre will be Whitehorse’s primary vaccination site. In smaller communities around the territory, vaccinations will be administered at health centres.

The 55,000 doses of vaccine cost $440,000. The cost will be split between the federal and territorial governments, said Hanley.

Surplus vaccinations are a result of miscalculations by Health Canada in the early days of the outbreak. They initially thought people would need two doses of the vaccine to gain immunity.

Now it is understood people over the age of 10 require only one shot while younger children require two half-doses taken three weeks apart.

However, the extra doses could come in handy if the virus reappears in the later months of winter, said Hanley. The vaccines have a long shelf life, he added.

People shouldn’t be concerned about taking the vaccine even though some have questioned its safety.

“People should read what’s out there,” he said. “This is a different influenza … young, healthy people are being affected, so it puts everyone at risk.”

So far, the Yukon has been spared the worst of the Canadian outbreak of H1N1 virus, but officials expect a wave of cases to hit the territory soon.

“Since all our neighbours have been experiencing intense activity, we’re expecting an increase in the number of cases here,” he said, referring to British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

The sizes of the outbreaks in these two regions have been disproportionately higher as a percentage of the population than in the rest of Canada.

Last week, British Columbia reported 17 separate outbreaks of the H1N1 virus, while the Northwest Territories confirmed eight.

It is a “significant” increase from weeks past, according to FluWatch, Canada’s national flu-tracking system.

It’s very likely that the Yukon will soon mirror what is currently playing out in these two regions, said Hanley in a follow-up interview.

So far there have been only two serious cases of the flu, and one flu-related death, in the Yukon.

The territory isn’t releasing specific numbers on the number of cases that have hit the territory or where these cases are cropping up. They are only reporting serious illnesses or deaths that have resulted from the virus.

“We don’t like to give out those numbers since the numbers that are reported don’t actually represent the influenza numbers that are out there in the communities,” said Hanley.

“Usually the numbers are actually higher.”

In Canada there have been 83 deaths from the H1N1 virus, and, internationally, the World Health Organization reports almost 5,000 people have died as a result of it.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com

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