Free flu shots available in Vanderhoof, Nov. 1

U.S. study says current vaccines offer "sub-optimal" protection

Flu vaccinations will be made available to the public for free on a drop-in basis starting Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Vanderhoof Health Unit.

This year, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (B.C. CDC) has expanded the criteria for people who are eligible for vaccination to include healthy children aged six months to less than five years old, and those in regular contact with newborn babies and children less than five years old.

At increased risk of contracting the flu are persons 65 years of age or older, children younger than two years old, First Nations people, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems and certain medical conditions, such as chronic heart, lung, kidney, liver, blood, or metabolic diseases like diabetes.

“Vaccination is recommended for those at greatest risk of influenza, but also those who may be capable of spreading influenza to those at high risk,” said Cynthia Monk, public health communication liaison nurse for the Northern Health Authority.

In 2011 and 2012, nurses at the Vanderhoof Health Unit administered 1,049 doses of the flu vaccine, an increase of 82 doses since the year before.

Annually, the B.C. CDC distributes about 1.1 millions doses across the province. In accordance with new government policy that requires health care employees who work in patient-care areas to get immunized or wear a filtration mask, the B.C. CDC has purchased an additional 55,000 doses of the vaccine.

The vaccine is a “trivalent” blend of three inactivated strains of flu viruses that are most likely to be circulating during the influenza season.

For years, public health organizations across Canada have consistently advocated that the flu vaccine is a way for people to defend themselves against influenza.

“Everyone can get the flu shot to protect them from getting the flu,” the B.C. CDC says on its website.

A 2006 immunization guide published by the Public Health Agency of Canada says that, with the right combination of strains, vaccines have been shown to prevent influenza illness in approximately 70 to 90 per cent of healthy children and adults.

But a new report has concluded that such estimates are seldom achieved and that existing influenza vaccines are less effective than is being widely asserted.

“The currently licensed influenza vaccines can provide moderate protection against virologically confirmed influenza, but such protection is greatly reduced or absent in some seasons,” says the report, developed by doctors and medical experts at the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota.

The 123-page report, which reviewed more than 12,000 documents about influenza vaccine research dating back to 1936, argues that efficacy rates of the trivalent influenza vaccine in healthy adults is somewhere between 50 to 60 per cent, with inconsistent evidence of protection in children aged 2 to 17 years old and a paucity of evidence for protection in adults 65 years of age or older.

“You have to keep in mind that 60 per cent is still substantial protection, but it’s not 70 to 90 per cent,” said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an influenza expert at the B.C. CDC.

Skowronski said the B.C. CDC, which has studied the efficacy of vaccines against lab-confirmed influenza since 2004, has generated findings that are consistent with the CIDRAP report.

The report also argues that the development of a more effective “game-changing” vaccine is being hindered by the perception that flu shots are already highly effective in preventing influenza infection.

“It’s currently the best we have for influenza, but we should do better,” said Skowronski.