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Pregnant women not getting H1N1 shots, medical officer worried

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WINNIPEG — A high proportion of pregnant women in Manitoba have not been vaccinated against H1N1, which worries Manitoba’s chief medical officer.

Dr. Joel Kettner said preliminary data shows that the vaccine uptake among pregnant women is lower than other priority groups considered at high risk of falling severely ill from H1N1 influenza. The data, which has not been completely analyzed, also shows that some First Nations communities have not had a high uptake of the H1N1 vaccine.

Kettner confirmed that pregnant women and First Nations people who were not vaccinated against H1N1 account for some of the 13 severely ill people admitted to intensive care units since the start of the second wave of flu.

The province says it will not have an exact breakdown of the severely ill cases until next week.

"Our preliminary analysis shows us that there’s a high proportion of pregnant woman who have not been vaccinated," Kettner said.

"The benefit from the vaccine in pregnancy is expected to far outweigh any risks, and I hope that message gets across to pregnant women so they make up their own minds."

To date, about 384,000 Manitobans — 32 per cent of the province’s population — have been vaccinated against H1N1. Kettner estimates that leaves half of all Manitobans at risk of being infected.

Between Nov. 24 and 30, four people with H1N1 have been admitted to an intensive-care unit with severe illness. Another two people have been admitted to ICU with a severe respiratory illness that might or might not be H1N1.

Kettner said more people are infected with the virus every day. He encouraged Manitobans — especially those at high risk – to get their shots to protect against flu. About half of all Manitobans who have not been vaccinated are included in a priority group at higher risk of infection and severe illness.

"I did a shift in the Grace Hospital emergency room on Tuesday evening and I saw several patients suspected to have H1N1 or concerned about it, including a young child with pneumonia probably from H1N1," Kettner said. "Many of those patients I saw had not been vaccinated."

Earlier this week, the province began distributing doses of the vaccine to doctors’ offices as the number of people attending mass immunization clinics began to dwindle.

Milton Sussman, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s chief operating officer, said the city has seen a dramatic drop in the number of people attending flu clinics. About 7,000 people were vaccinated in Winnipeg flu clinics on Monday, compared to about 5,000 on Wednesday.

Four of the eight remaining city flu clinics are slated to close next week in Fort Garry, downtown, River East and Assiniboine South.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

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