Ontario: Flu shot for anyone who works in health care or has kids

People who work in health care or have children in the province will receive a free flu vaccine, public health officials in the Canadian city of Toronto have announced.

The provincial government in Ontario hasn’t given the green light for the full flu shot season vaccine mandate, despite medical officials in Toronto setting October as the deadline to provide the shot to patients under the age of six months old.

The health authorities’ move is an “exceptional measure,” Dr. Erika Nelson told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.

“I’m confident that with other people across Ontario deciding to take this action, they would have been able to have it done before October anyway,” she said.

Health officials are working with Toronto municipal government to create a plan to provide the shot to low-income families in the city.

Vaccines are now offered for children who are six months old and older, before the start of the flu season, in some public schools and on several bus routes in Toronto’s downtown. In recent weeks, the flu has claimed the lives of more than 130 people across the country.

“The fact that we’re starting to see young children dying because of influenza isn’t acceptable to us,” said Dr. Tim Caulfield, a public health expert at the University of Alberta, in a statement.

He called on the federal government and provinces to urgently implement the flu shot requirements, adding that the Ontario government’s lack of support is “illogical, inexcusable and irresponsible.”

Vaccination rates for young children are critically low in Canada, with just 59% of children aged two to 17 years old getting a flu shot, according to government statistics.

Meanwhile, more than half of the 759 people who have died from the flu this season across Canada have been under the age of 65.

Federal and provincial governments must decide if they’re going to mandate flu vaccinations before the federal government moves to pass the flu shot bill, Caulfield added.

The bill would establish a national vaccine program for all children, individuals over five years of age, and pregnant women.

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