Written by By Sandra Bamforth, CNN
The territory of Saskatchewan, home to the Lake Louise ski resort and Lake of the Woods, is stepping up efforts to prevent the spread of one of the most common diseases in the world — influenza — with the offer of a vaccine that was found to be more effective than traditional vaccines.
Flu is the second leading cause of death among children aged 15-24, according to the World Health Organization, and kills up to 500,000 people each year, many of them children.
For years, families in the territory have relied on a seasonal flu vaccine from Merck, but the vaccine is not 100% effective in preventing the spread of influenza, officials in the province explain.
“There are a lot of factors that affect the vaccine’s effectiveness, the most significant being that influenza evolves over time,” Health Canada, the provincial agency responsible for vaccines, explains in a statement to CNN.
That’s why the provincial health authority in Saskatchewan, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR), has introduced “poison free” — or COVID-19 — as its new vaccine.
The vaccine is a combination of a seasonal flu shot with live, weakened, influenza A (H3N2) virus. While a 2014 study in The Journal of Virology indicates that combining the two doses, as opposed to separate shots, is highly effective, the value of the COVID-19 vaccine as compared to other vaccine is still being studied.
“What makes this vaccine unique, however, is that it produces the same amount of immunity to influenza A (H3N2) virus antibodies as seasonal vaccine,” states RQHR.
In some populations, this flu vaccination may be the only time a person gets the flu vaccine in the course of the year, according to the authority.
In its first round of vaccination, Friday July 27, RQHR will offer 2,500 doses of COVID-19 to seniors, and 1,000 doses to pregnant women, pregnant individuals who were between zero and 34 weeks of pregnancy up to June 30, 2016, people 65 and older, people 65 and older with chronic health conditions, people at high risk of complications related to influenza, people 40 years of age and older and people under age 18, along with people 18 years of age and younger.
“CSAN is one of the two territories in Canada where the vaccine is ready to be dispensed,” said RQHR CEO Jan Duncan. “With COVID-19, we will be able to expand the target population to include health care workers.
“As early as next week, our healthcare professionals will be able to give COVID-19 to patients without prior immunization or training and as soon as this seasonal influenza vaccine is ready to be dispensed.”
In 2005, the territory — which has an average population of 466,000 — introduced the use of a “SafeStop” program to better prevent the spread of influenza in adults and children under age five.
That program, founded by the Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Rhonda Friedman, involves a one-shot HPV vaccine administered before a person goes in for a routine medical checkup. Another vaccine, Cervarix, protects against both viruses, the spokesperson explains.
The next delivery of COVID-19 is expected on July 28.
“There has been some controversy about vaccinations in the province,” Duncan says. “But public health is about protecting people and helping to keep them as healthy as possible.”