Here’s why vaccines are being offered in such high volumes this flu season

You might have noticed many more full bottles of the new pre-emergent flu vaccine being offered to school-age children in Canada this month.

Dr. Eileen Lafferty, director of the Hospital for Sick Children’s Immunization and Infection Prevention Unit, told The Washington Post that the national health agency, Public Health Ontario, “indicated they wanted to get an approved vial into our hands” as soon as possible in response to a national outbreak of measles that resulted in four cases and the canceling of all school absenteeism in the area last month.

Measles is highly contagious, and generally appears at about age 2. There are several strains, including one that hits kids, young adults and pregnant women at the most vulnerable times.

One common method for fighting it is a three-shot vaccine for infants – but only when the child is 1 year old, which means many parents may be ready to give the vial to their kids to start them off as soon as possible.

So here come the full bottles.

After announcing its intention to vaccinate pre-school kids for the first time, the Ontario government committed to offering the vaccine free to children, regardless of where they lived.

Public Health Ontario CEO Dr. Diana Bee told the Montreal Gazette this month that vaccines “end the epidemics that we can never control” – and that can be a refrain when it comes to influenza.

According to public health data, 2.6 million Canadians contract influenza every year, along with roughly 4,600 people who die.

“We have enough vaccines to save all the cases,” Bee told the Gazette. “Whether we can contain them or not, people say, ‘Well, you’re going to have an epidemic.’ The fact is, we’re not. If we were, it would take a long time to get through our entire supply chain.”

The problems with flu are that it circulates throughout the population every year and that the majority of cases aren’t the serious ones. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, muscle aches and general tiredness. It can take a few days for flu to set in, but once it’s here, it lasts through the end of the season.

It’s called the wave effect, because flu seasons come in waves. In Australia’s 2018-19 flu season, authorities reported four common strains, and four confirmed deaths in children under 5 years old in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state. In England and Wales, there were three deaths, and one in Scotland.

And yet last week in Florida, at least 14 children under 5 years old died from flu-related complications, according to reported cases last week.

Lafferty said so far she has seen no evidence that any of the country’s school districts are canceling classes due to flu this flu season, but she wants to see whether a seasonal trend emerges.

Measles and flu are extremely contagious. Measles are highly contagious, and generally appear at about age 2. There are several strains, including one that hits kids, young adults and pregnant women at the most vulnerable times.

The reality is that no vaccine will eradicate what she calls “a completely avian virus,” one “that genetically will never pass humanly, never transmitted to humans unless a virus enters us.”

Lafferty told the Post that when there is a particularly virulent strain, there is some evidence vaccines can work – but it is slim.

That’s what is driving the decision to offer the vaccine to pre-schoolers – and to vaccinate at any age.

The viral epidemic can’t be controlled with a handful of shots, she said.

“You can’t be smart enough,” Lafferty said. “You can’t train enough people – it can’t be the case.”

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