The Sun Country Health Region (SCHR) is following the advice of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health to restrict public health influenza immunization clinics.
Only three demographics are eligible to receive the flu shot at clinics run by the SCHR and other health regions: pregnant women; children between the ages of six months and five years; and people with severely compromised immune systems, such as transplant recipients, dialysis patients, and people currently receiving cancer treatment.
Pregnant women and young children were initially the only groups that could receive the vaccine, as of January 11. Three days later, SCHR added people with several compromised immune systems to the eligible list.
Saskatchewan Health is working with its partners to secure additional vaccines and distribute them to the health regions as it becomes available, but it's not known when, or if, the flu vaccine will be made available to all members of the public.
Flu season generally begins in November and continues until March or April. SCHR began offering vaccination to staff and the public on October 21, 2013. Public interest in the flu shot has been higher in SCHR and, has the demand has increased in recent weeks.
The H1N1 strain has been predominant from the start of the influenza season, and it is expected that young children (less than five years of age) will be at greater risk. They will not have immunity to H1N1, and they will be more susceptible. Pregnant women are also at increased risk for severe illness from H1N1.
H1N1 is the same strain that first appeared in 2009. It has been included in influenza vaccines since 2010.
SCHR medical health officer Dr. Shauna Hudson reminds the public they should take all other precautions to avoid the seasonal influenza infection. That includes adopting infection prevention methods such as frequent handwashing, coughing and sneezing into an elbow, cleaning surfaces often and staying at home when sick.
Hudson also reminds people that if they are sick they should not visit residents in long-term care facilities or hospitals within the region.
SCHR is also encouraging all visitors who are not immunized to wear a mask when they visit residents and patients in its health care facilities, in order to protect vulnerable residents.
Masks are available at the entrances to health care facilities, or can be obtained by speaking with the nursing staff.
Pregnant women and parents of children under the age of five can contact their local public health office to book an appointment for influenza immunization.