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It is time to say thank you

It is time to say thank you

November 13, 2009

A message from Dr. Gerry Predy, Senior Medical Officer of Health

As the next phase of vaccinations begins for people at high risk of severe disease due to H1N1, there is a much different atmosphere at the vaccination clinics. We are seeing that people are feeling reassured by the understanding that through the planned phases of the vaccination program, every individual who wants it will receive the vaccine. It is the primary goal of Alberta Health Services to protect the health of Albertans.

We know that to protect our population in the face of this influenza pandemic, we must remain flexible. We must be prepared to adapt our plans as the face of the disease and the resources available to us change. It is a moving target and we have been adjusting our thinking in order to maximize our limited supplies of vaccine.

When vaccine supplies became unexpectedly reduced, it forced a change in our planning and consequently, we are now offering the vaccine in stages based on highest risk. Staffing clinics has also proven to be a challenge in the province and has influenced how quickly and extensively the vaccine can be delivered.

As much as very detailed pandemic plans have been developed, there are so many changing factors in dealing with H1N1. The medical community worldwide finds itself in an unfamiliar circumstance, dealing with an unpredictable virus that attacks in a unique way. We continue to learn about H1N1 and who is most affected by it, as we see it spreading through our communities. Based on these learnings we adapt our plans and actions.

In the face of this uncertainty, Albertans should take pride in what has been accomplished. Incredibly, over 450,000 people, nearly fifteen percent of Alberta's population, were vaccinated in only the first two weeks of the program. That number is close to the percentage of the population that is vaccinated during an entire regular influenza season. This is due in large part to the speed at which the vaccination campaign was undertaken.

We made a choice to move the vaccine out to the population as soon as we received it. In other locations across Canada, a slower approach was taken to setting up clinics. Because we received the vaccine sooner than expected from the manufacturer, and because we were beginning to see how quickly western Canada was being hit by H1N1, we felt we should not keep the vaccine in refrigerators, but get it out to our population as quickly as possible to slow down the spread of this flu.

We are now offering the vaccine to more groups of individuals. This part of the campaign is still being offered in stages, since it will include large numbers of the population, and we want to avoid the line-ups seen earlier in the process. As more vaccine is made available, more people will become eligible.

We have faced some difficult decisions regarding how to administer the limited vaccine we had available to us. Determining the order of these vaccinations has not been a simple process, but it has been a well researched and informed one. We have followed the guidelines set out by the Public Health Agency of Canada which outlines the priorities for administering the vaccine and we have applied these to what we see is happening with H1N1 here in Alberta and in other Canadian centres. Combining those observations with what took place in the southern hemisphere during its influenza season, which peaked during our summer, has enabled the medical community to make some informed predictions about who will most benefit from the first wave of vaccinations.

Fortunately, in Canada, our issue will not be whether or not you will get the vaccine, it is only a question of timing and we need to keep that in perspective. There will be enough vaccine for every Canadian who needs and wants to be immunized. As we know, the influenza season in Canada occurs from early fall to late spring each year. So while we might be seeing a peak in activity right now, the virus will continue to be around in the coming months and we still encourage vaccination.

We've gone through a difficult few weeks and it is time to say thank you. First, to our health care staff who have worked tirelessly on the frontlines of this pandemic to ensure that our population is protected and prepared. We also need to thank you, the public, for your patience during this process as we determine how best to serve our community and for working together to be part of this effort to protect each other and yourselves.

Information regarding the vaccination campaign, including high risk groups currently eligible for immunization, is available at http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/887.asp

Dr. Gerry Predy
Senior Medical Officer of Health
Alberta Health Services