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Torontonians on high-priority list can get early flu shot

Pregnant women in Toronto can begin receiving the H1N1 flu shot on Thursday as the city fast-tracks its vaccination program for those individuals considered more at risk of developing complications if they fall ill with the influenza virus.

Toronto had not been planning to roll out its vaccination program for priority groups until next Monday. But the city's top medical official announced on Tuesday that he is making the vaccine available to high-risk groups starting this Thursday, following the death of a 13-year-old boy from the H1N1 virus.

"The sad news of this boy's death is a reminder that while most flu illness is mild, severe illness and death is a part of the picture of this pandemic," Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health, said at a news conference on Tuesday. "We must build society's defences to protect the population and in particular those who are most vulnerable."

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Vaccination is the best way to protect the population, Dr. McKeown said in announcing that he is moving up the start dates for the public clinics to this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The city is making the vaccine available first to at risk individuals - pregnant women, people under 65 with chronic health problems and healthy children six months to under five years of age.

The city began vaccinating health care workers on Monday.

Dr. McKeown said Evan Frustaglio, a grade 8 student and aspiring hockey star, is the first person in Toronto to die from the H1N1 virus this fall.

Evan died days after getting sick and only hours after developing a fever. He suffered from mild asthma, Dr. McKeown said when asked if the boy had any underlying health issues.

"It is always a tragedy when a child dies," he said. "As a parent and as a health care worker, I extend my sympathies to the boy's family, his friends at school and his hockey community."

Dr. McKeown said it is important to emphasis while Evan's case is an example of the kind of severe illness that can be caused by the H1N1virus, this does not mean that there is a higher risk of anyone who may have been in contact with him contracting the virus.

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"People with severe illness have the same virus as people with a mild illness," he said.

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