The upcoming Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) influenza clinic campaign is set to kick off on Monday, Oct. 19.
The vaccine is free and is recommended to everyone six months and older but is particularly important for people at high-risk of influenza complications. There will be some additional guidelines in place at the SHA clinics this year, to help reduce the risks of COVID-19.
“This year is definitely a very different situation, so we are certainly working hard to make sure that the influenza vaccine will be widely available,” said Jacqui Kennett-Peppler, executive director of Primary Health Care for the SHA. “Our goal for the integrated rural is to have every health care encounter be an opportunity to be immunized or help get directed to where they can be immunized.”
The Saskatchewan Health Authority has all the influenza clinic information available online at www.4flu.ca.
“That would really direct people to where the closest clinic or opportunity really is,” said Kennett-Peppler. “In previous years, public health clinics have been mainly mass clinics, this year we will have to be very mindful of the public health order (for COVID-19) and our traffic flow to ensure that people can be properly social distanced in those settings. We are asking for our community members to come prepared by wearing a mask, and if they don’t have a mask then one will be provided.”
“People just need to be very mindful and be patient, that if there is a line at the clinic that they are properly social distancing themselves,” said Kennett-Peppler. This is especially true for some locations that might not have large sites. “Our communities have been really good at following the COVID-19 guidelines that are already in place, so we are hopeful that continues at the clinic sites.”
A variety of health care encounters will be available, including traditional influenza clinics, pharmacists, physicians, nurse practitioners, home care providers and acute care sites.
At the SHA influenza clinics, the traffic flow measures will ensure that there is not an excess amount of people at the different stations at the clinics.
“We also ask if any of our community members are ill with influenza symptoms, that they call the HealthLine at 811 and are directed to the most appropriate spot. We don’t want residents who have these symptoms to be coming through our clinics,” added Kennett-Peppler. The HealthLine is open 24/7, is confidential and free to Saskatchewan residents.
“We are anticipating there will be an uptake in the interest for getting the flu vaccine,” said Dr. Lanre Medu,Medical Health Office with SHA. “Our vaccine supplies are ready to roll out for the upcoming clinics, so that we can make the vaccine widely available as possible.”
The province is prepared, so if the vaccine requests are over and above what was needed in previous years, there is a relay in place to bring in more vaccines as needed.
“Because of COVID-19, things are going to be different this year and clinics are not going to be the same as people might be used to,” said Dr. Medu. “Part of the changes was that we brought more partners on board so there were fewer barriers for people who want to get their flu vaccine.”
There will be a little bit of variation on which sites will allow walk-ins, and which sites only allow booked appointments.
“It will depend on multiple factors, depending on the space they have in their clinic. We will be keeping a close eye on how the clinics are managing the public health orders,” said Kennett-Peppler.
“This is an important year because our system really depends on managing both our COVID-19 and influenza outbreaks, so that our health care providers are not becoming overwhelmed,” added Kennett-Peppler. “This year is that opportunity where we are provided with the learning we might need, so that when a COVID vaccine becomes available that we have an understanding on best practices to deliver that vaccine to residents. It is definitely a learning curve due to COVID-19, we are learning on the spot and learning as we go, and adapt our processes.”
“The hope and expectation is that this year will remain a different one, and we would not be dealing with COVID in 2021,” added Dr. Medu. “Clinics in previous years have always considered infection control measures. One of the new things for this year is increased recording of everyone who comes in the clinic, so there is additional control over the preventing the spread of COVID.”
Influenza symptoms include a sudden onset with fever, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, sore throat, tiredness and cough. Fever may not be prominent in children or the elderly. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are not common in adults but may occur in children. Most symptoms resolve in five to seven days, but cough and fatigue can last two weeks or more.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority will publish weekly influenza surveillance reports throughout influenza season.