Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver today.
B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, sounded a familiar note at a briefing Monday – a note most people would prefer to have forgotten. She talked about the holidays, telling families it’s okay to participate in festivities remotely if someone isn’t feeling great. She congratulated faith leaders for ensuring services are available remotely for those who don’t feel safe enough to come.
The main difference between yesterday’s guidance and that of the past two years is that the urgency this time is around influenza, not COVID-19, particularly when it comes to children. The Globe and Mail has written this week about emergency rooms filled to overflowing across the country with very sick children. Surveillance data shows there are more children admitted to hospital with influenza right now than at any other time in at least a decade.
Aside from COVID-19, children are also being infected with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. But it is influenza, and the severe respiratory complications that can arise from it, that is largely driving the numbers at hospitals.
The 2022-2023 flu season “just came out of the gates really intensely,” Lynora Saxinger, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, told The Globe’s Kelly Grant. “It’s creating a fair amount of havoc, honestly.”
Only about 20 per cent of B.C. children aged five to 11 have had flu shots. For teens, it’s only 15 per cent.
Dr. Penny Ballem, who has been coordinating the province’s vaccination campaigns, said B.C. will be sending text notifications to parents encouraging them to get their kids vaccinated. And she said the province has planned a blitz aimed at welcoming children to the clinics.
In Alberta, health officials are attempting to keep as many sick children out of emergency rooms as possible by placing a large order with a Turkish manufacturer for five million bottles of children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The fever-reducing medications have been cleaned off of shelves across Canada.
The order with Atabay Pharmaceuticals and Fine Chemicals, placed at a “small premium” over retail price, greatly exceeds the population of children in the province. Once Health Canada approves the agreement, shipments should begin in the coming weeks.
“Fever is scary for parents,” Premier Danielle Smith said Tuesday. “This is really serious that they can’t get acetaminophen to bring the fever down, and that is why we want to make sure parents have access to the medication that they need. Because if they can’t break the fever, they end up in hospital rooms, and that is what’s causing the pressure on our hospitals, not just here but across the entire country.”
As in B.C., data in Alberta show low rates of flu vaccinations for children. The rate for children aged five to nine is 13.6 per cent, while those aged 10 to 14 have 12.3-per-cent coverage.
Ms. Smith avoided questions about whether her United Conservative Party government would encourage more people to get flu vaccines. Instead, she noted there is no vaccine to combat RSV.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.