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Winnipeggers lining up to get seasonal flu shots

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Lillian Malcovitch winced after getting her first-ever flu shot Wednesday. Not because it hurt, but because the retired nurse doesn't like getting needles.

"I'm fine," the senior said afterwards at St. James Collegiate gymnasium, one of 12 seasonal flu shot clinics being held around the city for three days.

The healthy, active woman decided to get the seasonal flu shot for the first time to help protect herself and her diabetic husband from "all this extra stuff going around."

The seasonal flu clinics, running from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Friday, are a chance to prepare for H1N1 vaccine clinics to come, said Sande Harlos, medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

"This is a very good learning opportunity," Harlos said at the St. James clinic Wednesday.

The immunization program is enlisting the help of nursing, pharmacy and technical college students and volunteers from organizations including the Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance.

Health officials are evaluating the seasonal flu clinics and how they're run as they prepare for an H1N1 immunization program -- expected by the first week in November.

They're trying to immunize as many people as possible as quickly as possible to prevent its spread.

By midday Wednesday, 3,500 doses of the seasonal flu vaccine were administered at the dozen clinics.

In the first hour of the seasonal flu clinic, more than 180 shots were administered at the school gym in St. James.

Eight-month-old Connor Robbins was the youngest in the crowd to receive the seasonal flu shot.

"It was recommended for children six to 23 months," said his mother, Erin Robbins. "I wanted to be safe." She also got the seasonal flu shot, even though she has no underlying health conditions.

The first-time mom said she knows there are questions about whether getting the seasonal flu shot makes people more susceptible to contracting the H1N1 virus.

"I talked to my brother-in-law who's a doctor," and paid attention to media reports, and decided to get the seasonal flu shot, said Robbins.

"Better safe than sorry."

The whole process took about 45 minutes, Robbins said.

Six nurses, 10 volunteers and four pharmacy technicians moved the patients through the seasonal flu clinic in St. James, keeping an eye on the vaccinated people to make sure they didn't have a bad reaction to the shot.

At another seasonal flu clinic in Seven Oaks, a crowd of mostly elderly Winnipeggers waited about 20 minutes to get vaccinated by supervised nursing students. Those waiting for shots at a McPhillips Street hotel watched a video that explained only about one in a million people vaccinated suffer serious side-effects. Staff and volunteers kept track of patients by scanning bar codes on their vaccination forms at each stage of the process.

By Friday evening, 20,000 people around the city are expected to get the seasonal flu vaccine at the clinics.

Residents of personal care homes and other long-term care facilities will continue to get their seasonal flu shots at their residences, the WRHA says. Doses are also being administered at emergency shelters and downtown hotels where people reside.

Seasonal flu shots are recommended for people 65 and over, residents of personal care homes and other long-term care facilities, children from six months to 23 months, people with chronic illnesses, heart or lung disease or weakened immune systems, and pregnant women.


-- With a file from Helen Fallding



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2009 A6

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