Pediatricians say there is an urgent need for kids to get influenza vaccine
The Canadian Pediatric Society is urging families—especially those with young children—to have everyone in the household vaccinated against influenza as soon as possible.
The Public Health Agency of Canada reported this week the start of a flu epidemic, with influenza levels higher than in previous years, and starting more than a month earlier than in pre-pandemic times. In the first week of November, children and youth under 19 years old accounted for 64 per cent of reported influenza cases.
“Influenza vaccine is safe for children and youth and is especially important for young children, who are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from influenza,” said Dr. Laura Sauvé, Chair of the CPS Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee.
On November 25, The Quebec government announced for the first time that vaccination against influenza will be free for everyone. This new policy was put in place to deal with a health care crisis happening in the province, and in particular the overcrowding of emergency departments at children’s hospitals.
Hospital emergency departments over capacity
This spike in influenza coincides with a surge of other respiratory illnesses—such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19—among children and youth, threatening to overwhelm pediatric hospitals across the country. On October 26, Sainte-Justine Hospital and The Montreal Children’s Hospital were reporting Emergency Room occupancy at 150 and 225 per cent respectively.
The CPS and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommend that all children over 6 months receive an annual influenza vaccine.
Children under 5 years and who have chronic health conditions are especially at risk of being hospitalized if they contract influenza. In recent weeks, the IMPACT surveillance network has reported a sharp increase in influenza-associated hospitalizations among the paediatric population. Preliminary data from October 30 to November 5 shows 78 influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported.
It is safe to receive influenza and other vaccines at the same time.
Other safety precautions
Also, after an increase in the number of respiratory virus cases in children and overcrowding in pediatric emergency departments, Quebec’s College of Physicians is recommending people wear masks in public spaces.
The Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) reminds parents that there are alternatives to the emergency department when their child is sick, but the case is not urgent. The MCH recommends calling the Info-Santé 811 telephone line to speak to a nurse, contacting their family doctor for a consultation or a walk-in clinic through the Québec Medical Appointment Scheduler portal. In addition, those Montreal kids up to the age of 17 who do not have a family doctor, can contact the Guichet d’accès à la première ligne (GAP) by calling 514-890-6111.