Walk-in flu vaccine clinics have opened across Vancouver Island as hospital emergency departments grapple with long waits and children’s wards are near capacity due to a surge in Influenza A infections.
Island Health has posted a schedule of walk-in clinics open now through Dec. 23 throughout the Island — from the Quadra Village vaccination site at 950 Kings Rd. in Victoria and the Nanaimo Grant Avenue public health unit to the Port McNeill public health clinic.
Flu shots are also available through family doctors’ offices, pharmacies and health clinics.
Island Health offers a webpage with options.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday the online flu vaccination system has proven to be the most effective system, but 140,000 texts and emails were sent Monday and Tuesday to parents who aren’t registered, offering free shots for children six months and older.
“We are working hard to give everyone an opportunity to get vaccinated,” said Dix. “I think everyone needs to know there’s a vaccine for their child and for themselves in B.C. for either COVID-19 or influenza and we just want to invite people to come.”
The immunization blitz comes after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday the province is seeing a “dramatic increase” in cases of Influenza A, particularly H3N2, which can cause more severe illness, especially in children.
The surge began about two weeks ago, much earlier than in previous years, and while it’s leveling off in older teens, it continues to spike in younger children who — along with seniors — are most susceptible to serious illness and complications.
It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect, which means anyone vaccinated now will be protected during winter holidays.
Only 21 per cent of children age six months to five — the most vulnerable population — have been vaccinated against the flu. Of children ages five to 11, just 20 per cent are immunized and even fewer, 15 per cent, of those age 12 to 17 are immunized.
Overall 1.5 million people have been vaccinated against the flu in B.C., including 50 per cent of those age 65 and older.
Children’s hospitals across the country have seen a surge in patients, including those affected by COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, for which there is no vaccine. RSV and other respiratory illnesses are levelling off in B.C., said Henry, while flu cases are spiking.
Many children haven’t been exposed to the flu virus during the restrictions of the pandemic and thus haven’t built immunity. Also, the flu can lead to serious bacterial pneumonia in children age 5 and younger, Henry said.
Henry has said this year’s flu vaccine appears to be a good match to the virus circulating, offering 50 to 70 per cent protection against infection and illness.
Influenza vaccine is free to anyone in B.C. six months and older through health clinics, doctors’ offices and pharmacies with enhanced vaccines for seniors and FluMist for children age 2 to 17 who can’t tolerate needles.
Appointments can be booked online at the province’s gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated website or by phone at 1-833-838-2323. Parents need a child’s full name, health number, date of birth and postal code to register to receive an invitation to book.
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