Flu vax coverage low among Pincher Creek Co. kids, as cases rise sharply across Alberta

Pincher Creek County is seeing historically low vaccination rates against seasonal influenza, especially among children, even as respiratory viruses are hitting the region and the province harder and sooner than usual, according to Alberta Health Services.

This year’s respiratory virus season is being driven by an especially virulent flu strain, Influenza A (H3N2), which disproportionately impacts the very young and old, and people with pre-existing health conditions.

“We’re seeing a drastic rise in influenza and COVID cases in the last two to three weeks across the province. This is earlier than previous years and it’s spreading very quickly,” Dr. Vivien Suttorp, lead Medical Health Officer for AHS’s Southern Zone, said Monday, Nov. 21.

Very few people are being tested for the flu, leaving AHS to pinpoint real infection numbers or map viral hotspots regionally or provincially.

“The numbers we have right now are just the tip of the iceberg of what is actually out there,” she said.

It’s not entirely clear why this year’s flu season has come on so strongly or so early, though Suttrop said both trends were seen in Australia, whose summer flu season is considered a reliable bellwether for health regions in the northern hemisphere. While vaccine rates remain low across Alberta and Pincher Creek County, Suttrop said immunization is but one “component in protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our communities” against infection and viral spread.

Sixteen per cent of county residents across all age groups have had a flu shot as of Nov. 12, according to seasonal flu statistics listed on the province’s website. That’s 1,344 people over a region that includes Pincher Creek, Fort Macleod, Brocket, Cowley, Lundbreck and Burmis.

County immunization rates progressively drop off across younger age groups.

For comparison, Alberta Health stats show just over half of local residents 75 and older have been vaccinated. Coverage drops to just over a quarter in people aged 60-74, slightly more than 10 per cent for 40-59 year-olds, and a little over five per cent for people between 20 and 39. Less than five per cent of under-11s have had a flu shot this year.

“Historically, Pincher Creek has had excellent vaccination rates in children, seniors — everybody,” Suttrop stressed, noting “excellent uptake” has prevented disease outbreaks in the past.

This year’s flu shot is safe and demonstrably effective against the three main flu strains known to be circulating in Alberta, including the dreaded Influenza A.

“Influenza is a very serious illness, and we know that Influenza A tends to produce more severe outcomes in young children,” Suttorp said.

To schedule your flu shot, visit AHS’s website at bookvaccine.alberta.ca/vaccine/s/, or call Health Link at 811.

Flu and COVID bi-valent vaccines are available through family doctors at Pincher Creek’s Associate Clinic. Shots are also available to walk-ins at Pincher Creek’s Rexall (789 Main St), and at the Walmart Supercentre (1100 Table Mountain St) while vaccine supplies last.

Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze