Ontario not considering 24/7 swine flu clinics
Ontario is not looking at 24/7 swine flu clinics, but will be ramping up hours and the numbers of clinics, the province's chief medical officer of health says.
"Twenty four hours a day ... is not something we are considering. We are however, increasing our clinics, expanding our hours and looking at what settings we deliver vaccine to maximize outreach to the population," Dr. Arlene King told a Thursday news conference.
One limiting factor will be the amount of swine flu vaccine available to the province at any one time, she said.
"If we get more vaccine, we'll expand hours. We're trying to tailor and be precise about matching demand, need and supply," she said. "Every health unit is doing its part to do that."
King is expected to make an announcement on Friday how much vaccine Ontario will receive in its next delivery from the federal government.
However, she said the province is building up its delivery capability on a daily basis, she said, and admitted they would like to improve on the wait times.
Health Minister Deb Matthews asked Ontarians to be patient and make sure the high-priority patients get first access to the vaccine.
Those who are in a priority group include:
- people with chronic medical conditions (eg., asthma, diabetes) under the age of 65
- healthy children from six months to five years old
- care providers and household contacts of persons at high risk who cannot be immunized or may not respond to vaccines
- pregnant women
Women who are fewer than 20 weeks pregnant should wait until the unadjuvanted vaccine is available in the coming days. Only women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant can be vaccinated with the adjuvanted vaccine, which uses an organic "booster."
In Toronto, the public clinics will begin on Monday. Matthews noted that is a week ahead of schedule.
As it now stands, early clinics in the GTA have been swamped by demand -- something that may be related to the deaths of two young people. Some parents standing in line say they can't take the risk of losing their children to the flu.
King said 1.4 million doses of the swine flu vaccine have been distributed to the province's health units -- "and that vaccine was being used up as fast as we get it." Another 750,000 doses are being packaged up. She said that was sufficient to inoculate the high-priority patients.
She described the demand as "unprecedented," adding it is driven by risk perception.
The province doesn't yet have data on how many Ontarians have been vaccinated so far. That will come next week, she said.
With disease rates rising, the province would like to get immunization moving as quickly as possible, but King again said that was dependent on supply.
Hospitalizations and deaths can be minimized by vaccinating the high-priority groups first, she said.
To aid the vaccination process, the province is packaging vaccine doses in smaller packages for family doctors. Currently they are being sent out in 500-dose boxes, which is too much for a small practice to handle, King said.
However, there are technical complications in delivering the adjuvanted vaccine, she warned. The vaccine must be mixed with an adjuvant, which is an organic booster, and it can't be stored for more than 24 hours.
Despite the difficulties, Progressive Conservative health critic Christine Elliott called for 24/7 clinics. "Offering workplace clinics and clinics in school -- I would hope (Matthews) would be more proactive to these suggestions," she told reporters at Queen's Park.
Some employers are already telling their workforces that due to the nature of the swine vaccine, they won't be offering flu clinics in the workplace this year the way the do for seasonal flus.
The province is also studying best practices in the province's health units.
Up in Sault Ste. Marie, the city's health unit implemented an appointment system. As a result, there are no chaotic lineups.
"I'm very interested in the Soo practice because I think we are seeing that it may be a best practice, so we're learning as we go," Matthews said. "That's working smoothly, so there are ways to do it."
But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath noted the government "had many, many months to plan for this pandemic, to plan for the rollout of the vaccination, and they did a dismal job."
CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss said the province's Telehealth service is still under pressure. It took him about 40 minutes to reach a receptionist -- who then told him it would take six hours to hear from a nurse.
People seeking information can call 1-800-476-9708 for information about seasonal flu, swine flu and pandemic preparedness. If they want advice from a nurse, Telehealth's number is 1-866-797-0000.
There are also flu assessment checklists available through Toronto Public Healthand through Ontario Health. The Ontario one has sections for children under the age of five and for children over the age of five. The self-assessment tool can help you plan a next step if you or your children are symptomatic.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss