Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flu tab may be $105M

Clinics reopen in city; parents can now get shots with kids

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Manitoba could see the bill for its H1N1 battle rise to $105 million -- especially if there are greater numbers of patients in intensive care units than there were during the flu's first wave this spring.

But the cost of vaccinations, which opened up to school-aged children in Winnipeg on Thursday, is only a small percentage of the cost, Health Minister Theresa Oswald said.

"We looked at what happened in our ICUs in the spring, made some projections about (H1N1) being worse than it was in the spring and built that into the $105-million projection," Oswald told reporters. "If there are substantially more severely ill people there is no question that cost will rise."

Oswald said while the cost of fighting H1N1 will be high, it's justified. "We're not going to cap the number of people that are allowed to have a ventilator," she said. Oswald said the province's vaccine costs to date -- including administering the shots -- amount to about $15 million.

Manitoba spent about some $12 million battling the first wave of H1N1 in the spring.

This fall it earmarked an additional $47 million for vaccine, antivirals, additional masks, gloves and other protective gear for health-care workers, additional lab equipment and staff and to increase its intensive care and surgical capacity.

When the vaccinations began, polls showed that fewer than 30 per cent of Canadians were planning to become immunized, Oswald said. The province still ordered more vaccine than it needed but didn't budget immediately for the expanded vaccination clinics.

"The other unknown cost of course will be the level of severe illness that we experience. It could be similar to what we saw in the spring or worse, which would be a substantial cost," Oswald said. "We know that doctors have informed us that unlike a severe respiratory illness that may put a patient on a ventilator for two or three days, what happened in the spring with H1N1 was sometimes three weeks on a ventilator."

A dozen H1N1 flu clinics opened their doors to Winnipeggers once again on Thursday, the first day of shots since Nov. 6. And for the first time school-aged kids were included on the priority list.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) reported early Thursday afternoon that traffic at the clinics was steady, with few long lineups. But numbers were expected to pick up later in the day once school was out.

Although it was not advertised, parents of school-aged children are allowed to get the H1N1 shot at the same time as their kids.

That was welcome news to many parents standing in line at a clinic Thursday morning at the Grant Park Shopping Centre, most of them with preschool children in tow.

"Maybe it's like a tire sale. If you buy three the fourth is free," joked Mark d'Almeida, who stood with his three school-aged children.

Dr. Sande Harlos, a medical officer of health with the WRHA, said it makes sense to vaccinate parents along with their kids, especially when clinics are running smoothly and authorities have the ability to accommodate some extra people.

"We're not needing to actively screen in the way that we were doing before, and if people do accompany somebody who is on the priority list and they wish to be immunized at that time, we're not turning people away," she said.

On Thursday, Manitoba said it would follow new federal guidelines for dosage recommendations for children (see accompanying sidebar).


H1N1 facts:


103,105 -- number of Winnipeggers who had been vaccinated as of 11 a.m. on Thursday, including 1,824 Thursday morning.

200,000 -- number of Manitobans who got the shot by the end of Tuesday.

36,500 -- number of doses of vaccine with adjuvant the province has received this week.

9,200 -- number of doses without an adjuvant (to be administered to pregnant women) received from Australia last week.

225 -- the number of additional lab-confirmed cases of H1N1 in Manitoba in the week of Nov. 3-9, bringing the total number in the second wave of the disease to 291 since Oct. 6.

9 -- Number of individuals in intensive care units with respiratory illnesses, with five on ventilators. Two have been confirmed to have H1N1.

-- More than 75 -- percentage of people in several Manitoba First Nations communities who have already received the H1N1 flu shot, including a whopping 96 per cent at Oxford House.


H1N1 roundup:

As some clinics continued to brace for an H1N1 flu vaccine shortage, the Public Health Agency of Canada recorded 26 new deaths related to the virus across the country Thursday. The total number of deaths hit 161 since the pandemic began last spring. The majority of the new deaths were in Ontario. That province recorded 24 deaths.

Canadian Blood Services said they were expecting their donor system to be strained as the flu season continues and fewer people are able to donate blood. The agency said that it was also preparing for high levels of absenteeism.

Health officials in Montreal have pegged November as the deadliest month so far for H1N1 infections since the flu pandemic began in late April. They say the number of infections has yet to peak in Canada, with the majority of Canadians not able to receive their vaccinations until it's over.

A Harris Decima poll has found that Albertans are the least satisfied with their provincial government's handling of the H1N1 pandemic, possibly due to a contentious decision to vaccinate the Calgary Flames before priority groups. Sixty-one per cent of Albertans polled said their provincial government had done a poor job preparing for and dealing with the virus, while 23 per cent said the government had done a fair job and only 11 per cent said they done a good job.

Also, a new study by TD Economics says that economic activity in Canada was unlikely to suffer a lasting blow from the H1N1 virus. The study compared absentee levels to those experienced within the last 100 years as a result of the Spanish flu.


-- Compiled from the wire services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2009 A3

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