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Flu clinics to close temporarily after Monday

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WINNIPEG — Health care officials will start cracking down on queue-jumpers and Winnipeg’s H1N1 flu clinics will close temporarily after Monday, now that Manitoba is getting only a fraction of the vaccine it was expecting.

Late today, the federal government warned Manitoba Health that the province will get just 15,500 doses of the vaccine next week instead of the 72,000 doses the province was expecting.

That’s even less than originally feared, when the provincial government warned earlier this week that a national shortage would force mass-immunization flu clinics to shut down by Tuesday.

"This, of course, is disappointing," said Dr. Joel Kettner, the province’s chief public health officer. "But I don’t think this is devastating and I don’t think we need to be discouraged about our overall situation."

The news sent health officials scrambling following an already chaotic week that saw thousands of Manitobans brave long lines to get their shots.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said Monday will be the last day for mass-immunization clinics in churches, malls and community centres around the city. The priority list has been whittled down and, for the first time, will be enforced.

Until Manitoba gets a big batch of vaccine next month, only children aged six months to five years, aboriginal people, pregnant women and people under 55 with severe chronic conditions will be immunized.

People will be interviewed before they’re given the shot to ensure they meet the criteria. If they don’t, they’ll be asked to leave, said WRHA medical officer of health Dr. Sande Harlos.

By late today, about 111,000 Manitobans had been immunized, including more than 60,000 Winnipeggers. Although many were frustrated by long lines and tight restrictions, Harlos said it’s quite extraordinary for so many people to get the shot in just five days. That will reduce everyone’s pandemic risk, she said. 

Winnipeg only has about 12,000 doses left and those will be used up during the final community clinics on Monday.

After that, it could be Thursday or Friday before the next, tiny shipment is ready to be doled out, and the health authority isn’t sure yet how that will happen.

All flu shot clinics for administrative staff and front-line health-care workers have been cancelled so the vaccine can be saved for the highest-risk Winnipeggers.

The health authority is even repossessing vaccine it had given to the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service. About 500 emergency personnel have already had the shot and another 300 were slated to get it over the weekend and early next week. But those doses have been recalled so they can be given to high-risk people.

The vaccine shortage, and its unpredictable arrival, has left the WRHA facing another planning pickle. Parents have been told to bring their children back for a booster shot 21 days after the first inoculation. Starting in mid-November, hundreds of Winnipeg children will be due for a booster.

The WRHA says it has been assured there will be enough vaccine, but the federal government may now be reconsidering the need for a 21-day booster.

On Friday, an expert committee that advises the World Health Organization said one dose should be enough to protect children from severe flu.

That bolsters a similar study released last week by vaccine manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline.

On Friday, after the WHO issued its new recommendations, Dr. David Butler-Jones, chief medical officer of health, said experts advising the Public Health Agency of Canada are already studying whether to move to a single-dose recommendation for children.

In Winnipeg, people who show up at the region’s 12 mass immunization clinics on Monday will be screened to make sure they belong to a short new list of priority groups at highest risk of developing serious complications:

  • Children aged six months to under five years old;
  • Anyone of aboriginal ancestry (First Nations, Métis or Inuit);
  • People under age 55 with a severe chronic medical or other risk condition; and
  • Pregnant women.

The Inkster flu vaccination clinic has been moved from Fred Douglas Lodge on Burrows Avenue to the Philippine-Canadian Centre of Manitoba at 737 Keewatin St.

— With files from Canadian Press

 

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

 

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