Flu vaccine clinics to open Oct. 20

Health officials are recommending Albertans get vaccinated when influenza immunization clinics open in two weeks, despite the ineffectiveness of last year’s flu shot.

“The vaccine is one of the best ways you can protect yourself. It doesn’t just protect you, it protects those around you,” said Dr. Gerry Predy, senior medical health officer.

Predy said influenza immunization for all Albertans six months of age and older will be available beginning Oct. 20.

This year’s flu vaccine is different than last seasons and includes a new quadrivalent vaccine that will protect against four strains of influenza viruses.

Even though more residents than ever received the flu vaccine during last season’s clinics, the 2014-15 flu season was one of the deadliest in 15 years.

One-hundred-and-one flu deaths were recorded across the province and influenza landed more than 1,300 Albertans in hospital by the time the flu season ended in the spring.

The province records 30-40 deaths in a typical season.

The unusually high death toll was blamed on a vaccine that turned out to be largely ineffective against the H3N2 virus — the dominant strain last flu season.

Vaccine doses are ordered months in advance and require health experts to predict which forms of the virus will circulate during the upcoming flu season.

Officials said last year’s vaccine was designed to protect against the H3N2 strain but the virus mutated in a way that officials hadn’t anticipated.

Predy said about two out of every 10 years, vaccines can prove to be ineffective because flu viruses are constantly mutating.

“Nobody can predict ahead of time if that’s going to happen or not,” he said.

As flu season neared its end in February 2015, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health labelled the previous four months as a “moderate-to-severe flu season” noting it was particularly severe for the elderly and particularly mild for young people.