Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Flu Vaccination Urged for Every Canadian

Health group urges flu shots for all Canadians
CTV.ca News Staff
Tue. Nov. 9 2004 9:15 AM ET

All Canadians over the age of six months should be vaccinated against the
flu, a Canadian task force on preventive health care suggests.

In a report published Tuesday, the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health
Care for the first time recommends that doctors urge even healthy adults and
children to get annual flu shots.

Right now, health advisory groups recommend the shot to seniors, children
aged six to 23 months, and anyone with a heart or respiratory illness.

However, the influential group of epidemiologists, health-care researchers
and clinicians says a universal vaccination could reduce cases of influenza
by as much as 93 per cent.

"Because influenza occurs yearly and because reinfections occur throughout
the lifespan and affect up to 20 per cent of the population each year,
considerable attention has been directed to the prevention of infection in
healthy people," the group says, in the report published in the Canadian
Medical Association Journal.

It says the benefits include:

Economic benefit in fewer sick days and health care provider visits
A decrease in antibiotic use
Prevention of secondary complications
The harms include:

Some discomfort around the area where the shot was given, for 24 to 48 hours
after vaccination
Rhinorrhea and sore throat in people who receive the nasally-administrered
Nausea and vomiting in recipients of oseltamavir

Dr. Marla Shapiro, a CTV medical correspondent and host of Balance TV, says
what's changed is that the health community is becoming more aggressive
about primary prevention.

"It's important not only to target those who are at high risk," she told CTV

The preventive group does not recommend flu shots to those under the age of
six months, or to anyone who has had an allergic reaction to a previous flu
shot. It also does not recommend it to people who are allergic to eggs or
thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in the flu vaccine.

The group also recommended the use of drugs used to treat influenza, sold
under the brand names Tamiflu and Relenza.

So far, only Ontario and Yukon have universal vaccine programs that offer
free flu shots to their residents. While these programs have not yet been
fully assessed, it was revealed last week that Ontario would launch an
evaluation of the universal vaccine program.

According to a report in The Globe and Mail, vaccinating all 32 million
Canadians would cost about $125 million. This year, about 11 million
Canadians are expected to get the shot, as a cost of $45 million.

The recommendation to expand the flu vaccine program in Canada comes as the
United States struggles with a shortage of the shot, due to problems with
pill production.

The States have turned to Canada for vaccine supplies, and Canadian health
officials have tried to calm fears that stocks of the vaccine would not be
compromised in favour of Americans.

Health Canada estimates that about 10 to 25 per cent of Canadians will get
the flu during flu season, which runs from November to April.

"Although most of these people recover completely, an estimated 500-1,500
Canadians, mostly seniors, die every year from pneumonia related to flu and
many others may die from other serious complications of flu," the Health
Canada website says.