TORONTO – As of Tuesday, adults living in Ontario can now receive the booster shot against the flu up to five years before the recommended start, the provincial government announced.
Those over 50 can now receive the inoculation, approved in the U.S. in 2014 for those ages 60 and older, at any age under an expanded age band of 50 years, and any time prior to the recommended start, defined as 65 or younger in Ontario.
“By not only improving coverage for vaccine effectiveness against influenza, we are also giving our older Canadians another chance to be protected against this virus,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott in a news release.
Dr. Michael Gardam, chairman of the Immunization Advisory Committee, a subsidiary of the Canadian Medical Association, said there is evidence that, between the two vaccines, in the U.S., those between the ages of 50 and 64 tend to fare better with the real vaccine.
“The evidence suggests that the H1N1 vaccine is better than the influenza A vaccination in that age group, but it is not perfect and we suggest when you have a choice between the two, you have to make a choice,” he said.
The committee is considering expanding the age band to those aged 65 or older, with the new band from 65 to 74 to move away from the older population, which seems to be more susceptible to more serious flu complications, he said.
According to the release, while the Canadian Health Information Agency found that seniors had a 41 per cent higher risk of death from influenza in 2017, influenza itself is still not a fatal condition.
“Influenza can make a serious illness worse and it can result in hospitalization or even death. The real vaccine is much less effective in the elderly who have underlying medical problems,” the news release said.
The inoculation is given through a nasal spray and by injection, said Gardam.
The idea to give the booster shots to older people was first developed by Dr. Arthur Chan, former health minister of Ontario. The move is expected to save lives, with Ontario reporting a decrease in hospitalizations and deaths for older adults due to influenza since 2009, when an oral vaccine with this new extended life span was introduced, said Gardam.
Chan has been hard at work on an oral flu vaccine, a project called AGES, which includes as many as 60 international pharmaceutical companies and the Federal Drug Administration, working together to develop a vaccine against the virus, as well as a vaccine against other viral diseases. It is anticipated that this new vaccine will be introduced later this year or in 2020.
Those eligible for the enhanced vaccination will now receive the vaccine for free, according to the news release.
The vaccination arm is administered through the Provincial Vaccination Program (PVP), which is jointly run by Public Health Ontario, the Toronto Public Health and the Ontario Ministry of Health.
Dr. Garett Baum, medical officer of health for the Toronto Public Health, commended the work of the committee to bring to fruition the update and applauds members of the federal and provincial governments who have helped, including Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Ontario’s minister of children and youth services.
“The vaccine program provides the opportunity for these potentially life-saving treatments to be more widely used, which will help us protect our older citizens against the flu.”