Hospitals, province preparing for triple-virus season

Flu and COVID vaccines are now available to the general public. Shauna Hunt with details of the rollout as hospitals prepare for a potentially bad respiratory season. 

By Shauna Hunt and Meredith Bond

As the province rolls out the vaccination program for the respiratory season, they are urging people to take advantage of the vaccines available to avoid the same volume of patients as last year.

Farad Razak, an Internal Medicine physician with St. Michael’s Hospital, said they are currently tracking what happened in the southern hemisphere to predict what could happen here in Canada.

“What we saw in Australia was a worse than average year of influenza infections, both in terms of the number of people who got infected and the number of people who’ve had serious illness ending up in hospital.”

But Razak tells CityNews this year’s version of the flu vaccine is a good match for what is currently circulating. “And so the added benefit of vaccination becomes especially clear.”

“Certainly increasing vaccination rates in general at any country will reduce the severity of the influenza impact on the health system.”

He adds having a vaccine for all three respiratory illnesses, COVID-19, Influenza and RSV, for the first time in history could help reduce that pressure as well.

“These are going to continue to be a challenge for us in Canada into the foreseeable future. There’s nothing that’s going to slow these waves. To me, as a clinician and someone who worries about the hospitals working well, it’s really about reducing the volume and the pressure and then protecting the individuals who are most vulnerable.”

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said right now, influenza season hasn’t quite ramped up, so it’s best to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

“It’s so important we have a narrow window before influenza starts to take off, which we anticipate being in the next several weeks to get protected before the influenza season really starts.”

For those concerned about getting the shots simultaneously, Dr. Moore said it’s safe and convenient, but it is possible to separate the shots by a week or two if you wish to.

“The priority right now, given the amount of COVID activity, would be the updated XBB vaccine that’s available. We’re fortunate that influenza really hasn’t started across Ontario. So you have a little time to get your influenza vaccine, but don’t push it more than the next couple of weeks,” said Dr. Moore.

Last year, pediatric hospitals were overwhelmed with patients due to the triple-virus season. Dr. Moore said they are much more prepared this year.

“We’ve done simulations with all our health partners all summer long so that they can anticipate a surge in clinical cases in the pediatric population. We have a weekly meeting of all of the pediatric leadership, and that can accelerate to a daily meeting if we need to,” said Dr. Moore.

“So we’re prepared. I do think we’ll be in a better position this year.”

He added there’s already a rise in RSV cases.

“We have 100 individuals in a hospital, and around 45 of them are children,” Dr. Moore admitted, saying they have also made preparations to try and combat a children’s medication shortage that occurred last year so it won’t happen again.

“We’ve worked with industry to make sure we have Tylenol and Ibuprofen and outpatient antibiotics more accessible and available, and so industry understands when our surges will be so that they’re available to parents and children.”

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