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Nunavut vaccine blitz could 'wave H1N1 goodbye': medical officer

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  • Nunavut vaccine blitz could 'wave H1N1 goodbye': medical officer

    Nunavut vaccine blitz could 'wave H1N1 goodbye': medical officer

    19/11/2009 10:37:14 AM
    CBC News

    Nunavut might avoid a second wave of the swine flu pandemic now that 60 per cent of its population has been vaccinated, according to the territory's top health officials.

    Over a 16-day period this month, more than 18,000 Nunavummiut were vaccinated by teams of nurses that travelled to all of the territory's 25 communities.

    The immunization campaign, the largest public health effort in Nunavut's history, may have helped turn the tide on H1N1 in the territory, chief medical officer Dr. Isaac Sobol said Wednesday.

    "I like to think that we can wave H1N1 goodbye," Sobol told reporters in Iqaluit.

    'Still vulnerable'

    Sobol said there have been only a handful of swine flu cases since September - a contrast to the more than 500 mostly mild cases reported in Nunavut this past spring and summer.

    While Sobol said he believes Nunavut could avoid a second swine flu wave, he added that nothing is for certain.

    "We're still vulnerable," he said.

    When the vaccination program began Nov. 1, territorial health officials had ordered enough of the vaccine for up to 75 per cent of the general population, and did not have priority lists as was the case in many provinces.

    Health Minister Tagak Curley said his department has pulled off a gigantic task, given that provinces have struggled to meet demand and keep their vaccination clinics open over the last few weeks.

    "That is a relief because it means that Nunavummiut are protected," Curley said.

    Vaccine rumours scare away some

    Among the communities, Arctic Bay had the best turnout for H1N1 vaccine clinics, with 90 per cent of the community vaccinated.

    But in Coral Harbour, only 29 per cent of the population turned out for the clinic, meaning nurses will have to go back there to try again.

    Sobol attributed the low turnout in Coral Harbour to strange internet-based rumours swirling around the community "that there are microchips put in the vaccine with the number 666 which will enable you to be tracked by the government."

    Curley said rumours in small communities tend to spread quickly.

    "Once a person indicates that kind of message, then others start saying,
    'He's not going to take it, nor am I going to take it,'" he said.

    To date, there have been no serious adverse reactions to the flu shot in Nunavut. It is still available at health centres across the territory.
    Revised guidelines for children

    During the vaccination campaign, adults received a full dose of the vaccine while children between the ages of six months and three years were slated to receive two half-doses.

    But Sobol said health officials have since changed that guideline for young children.

    "We've told our health-care staff that for now we are not giving any second half-dose to children," he said.

    "We may not have to at all or we may have to institute that second half-dose, depending on what we find out in the next few weeks."

    The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends children between six months and three years get the second half-dose, but Sobol said his decision is based on clinical trials from Europe that show a half-dose of the vaccine is effective.

    Nunavut health officials will re-evaluate their guideline for young children in a couple of weeks.
    "Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
    -Nelson Mandela