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Prince Albert flu-vaccine shortage leads to clinic’s cancellation

A flu shot is administered in Barre, Vt. A shortage of flu vaccine has forced Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert Parkland Health Region to cancel a drop-in immunization clinic in the city.

TOBY TALBOT/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A shortage of flu vaccine has forced Saskatchewan's Prince Albert Parkland Health Region to cancel a drop-in immunization clinic in the city.

Wanda Atcheson, the region's director of public health services, says about 13,000 people were vaccinated during flu clinics that ran from mid-October until mid-December. But there has since been "a significant surge" in demand and inventory in Prince Albert has been depleted, Atcheson said Monday.

"With the increase in cases, it seems like people got quite concerned and those that hadn't had their flu shot yet decided that they now wanted their flu shot as well," she said.

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"The ministry asked us to establish a few more flu clinics, with the increase in cases again, and so we did that. But because this is typically at the end of when we have our flu clinics, we don't have quite as much vaccine in the region."

Atcheson said as many as 300 people were vaccinated Monday morning and into the afternoon before the clinic had to be cancelled.

The region is working with Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health and more clinics will be scheduled when more vaccine is available, hopefully in a few days, she said.

The government said in an e-mail Monday that additional influenza vaccine had been transported to the region. The e-mail said the Ministry of Health is confident there's enough supply to accommodate clinics at present.

The extreme cold weather in Saskatchewan could also play a role in supply.

"One thing that hampers the transportation of our vaccine from the depot out to the regions can be cold weather, because the company that generally ships it, if it's too cold they won't transport it," Atcheson said.

"It's just a higher risk for them … because you need to make sure you're keeping that vaccine at specific temperatures. You don't want it too warm and you don't want it too cold, so they aren't shipping that vaccine right now. We have to wait until they are able to."

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The vaccine can be shipped in the winter, but most of Saskatchewan was in a deep freeze Monday with temperatures near or below -30 degrees and wind chills of -40 to -45.

Atcheson said people should remember that it takes about 10 days to two weeks to develop immunity once vaccinated.

Saskatchewan's deputy chief medical health officer said Friday that two children under five and one middle-aged person died in December after contracting influenza. All had underlying health conditions, so officials can't say that flu was the main cause of death.

Anyone six months of age and older can get the flu shot free through the publicly funded influenza immunization program.

The majority of influenza cases in Saskatchewan are influenza A H1N1, which is covered by this year's vaccine. This is the same strain that first appeared in 2009 and it has been included in influenza vaccines since 2010.

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