Ontario to students: get H1N1 flu shot

College and university students are at a greater risk of infection

Ontario has launched a $650,000 “Join the Resistance” ad campaign to encourage college and university students to roll up their sleeves for the H1N1 flu shot. It has also given the go-ahead for companies to vaccinate employees in the workplace. Some workplace clinics could begin as early as next week at some locations in the province, officials said.

Related: Why students should get the H1N1 vaccine

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said Friday that almost half of those hospitalized in Ontario for swine flu are people under 20. Thirteen per cent of deaths in Ontario related to H1N1 have been in people under age 25.

However, historically only about 25 per cent of people aged 17 to 24 get a seasonal flu shot compared to about 45 to 50 per cent of the general population, Dr. Arlene King told a briefing. Yet college and university students are at a greater risk of transmitting the infection because they live and study in close proximity to each other in dormitory rooms and study halls, she said.

King cited statistics that 25,000 or more of every 100,000 people who are not immunized will get sick with the flu. Of those, 25 to 100 will need hospitalization, 20 to 50 will end up in intensive care with most of them needing ventilators, and six will die.

“People cannot afford to let their guard down,” said King. “Everyone, including healthy young people, need to protect themselves against this new flu virus and the best way to do that is to get their flu shot,” she said.

The Ontario government sent an “email blast” this week to 53 student associations targeting 400,000 students. It also sent posters aimed at students to public health units and is posting advertising on websites to drive students to clinic listings. Next month, ads will be put in bars and restaurants. An animated “Join the Resistance” ad will run in cinemas throughout Ontario during the holidays.

The campaign to convince students to get immunized comes as several health units have decided to close their mass vaccination clinics next month after seeing a drop in H1N1 activity and public demand for the swine flu shot. Fifty-three flu assessment centres have also closed, leaving just six open.

Health units will “clearly be looking over the next couple of weeks” to decide if they still need mass vaccination clinics, King said. But the vaccine is available at more than 4,500 doctors’ offices, family health teams, hospitals and community health clinics across the province, said King. Students have also been receiving the shots at some universities including the University of Ottawa and Brock University.

Even though some of the indicators of H1N1 activity have declined over the past couple of weeks, King said the rates of influenza are still higher than at the peak of a regular flu season, and influenza activity is still very high in the province. She said the virus will likely be around for some time into the future, and emphasized the vaccine is safe, and a match for the virus.

So far, only 3.8 million Ontario residents have received the H1N1 flu shot. Whether Ontario will see a third wave of H1N1 depends on how many people get immunized, officials say.
“I would suspect we will get little blips in activity in different communities and in different settings,” said King. “But whether that blip is large enough to say we have a wave in the entire province will be fully dependent on how many people we get immunized.”

Ontario has had 97 lab-confirmed deaths and 1,541 hospitalizations due to H1N1 since April. On Friday, there were 223 people in hospital, with 55 of them in the intensive care unit and 39 on mechanical ventilators. Ontario has received almost 5.9 million doses of vaccine. Next week, it will get more than one million doses, and could get an additional one million doses beyond that.

The Canadian Press