The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is not expecting anything like last year's pandemic flu season that left health organizations around the world scrambling to immunize everyone against the H1N1 influenza virus.
Nicknamed the "swine flu" because of its prevalence in pigs, the H1N1 flu was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization - the first global pandemic declared since the Hong Kong Flu in 1968. While most people who caught the virus had minor or typical flu symptoms, the virus was considered dangerous for people with respiratory issues or low immune systems - such as seniors or children under the age of two. The WHO's global report in May of 2009 suggest that H1N1 was a factor in over 18,138 deaths around the world.
While H1N1 still poses a risk, Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer Dr. Paul Martiquet says the outbreak is more or less under control.
"We are not expecting a repeat the same as last year in terms of a pandemic," he told Pique on Monday. "We're expecting the usual flu season, which starts in November and ends in April. We have a vaccination that includes the pandemic strain from last year and also for the Influenza A flu that was circulating in Australia during their winter."
The 2010-2011 flu shot should be available after Thanksgiving Weekend, Dr. Martiquet said. And as always the health authority is encouraging high risk groups to get in line as soon as possible. Seniors 65 and over, people with chronic illnesses, people who have respiratory and cardiac issues, pregnant women and children under two are all eligible for free shots. As well, the program has been expanded to offer free vaccination for First Nations, which were among the hardest hit groups.
Dr. Martiquet said there is an ample supply of the vaccine this year.
"We won't have the same problem as last year where there was a shortage and we had to dole out to priority groups. This year we have enough for everybody, and everybody will be able to access the vaccine through flu clinics - we'll have the dates advertised in the paper fairly shortly."
Health Canada and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control issue vaccines based on the prevalence of flu in the southern hemisphere, which is usually a good indication of what's coming around in the northern hemisphere. The appearance of the H1N1 flu last year caught most governments by surprise, and it was too late to add the vaccine to last year's formula. A second shot was required, but it was months before the supply caught up to the demand.