Vaccinations begin

Kerri Breen
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Confusion continues as first shots are administered

In a makeshift clinic in the main lobby of the Health Sciences Centre, Eastern Health employees were among the first in the province to receive a new vaccine against H1N1 Monday.

A steady stream of health-care workers lined up against a wall from 8:50 a.m. onward while nurses administered shots behind a blue partition.

Nurse Eva Tucker receives her H1N1 vaccine in an inoculation centre set up at the Health Sciences Centre Monday. - Photo by Steve Bartlett/The Telegram

In a makeshift clinic in the main lobby of the Health Sciences Centre, Eastern Health employees were among the first in the province to receive a new vaccine against H1N1 Monday.

A steady stream of health-care workers lined up against a wall from 8:50 a.m. onward while nurses administered shots behind a blue partition.

Most employees want to receive the vaccine, according to Sonya Stanford, acting director of occupational health and safety at Eastern Health. Some 13,000 health-care workers are expected to receive the shot in the next two weeks.

On the street, however, it's a different story. In contrast to the orderly line of medical staff waiting for their shot at the Health Sciences, among members of the public there seems to be a fair amount of confusion.

Tony Clarke, a cab driver for Bugdens, said people don't know what's in the vaccine.

About half of the customers he speaks with in his cab are talking about H1N1, but about 80 per cent of them aren't interested in getting the shot because they are confused and skeptical about the drug and its safety, he said.

The drug will be available to the public through mass immunization clinics as of Nov. 2.

Clarke is holding out on getting the shot himself. The threat of swine flu is serious, but it hasn't really hit St. John's yet, he said.

"It's nothing to sneeze at - pardon the pun," he said. "Eventually I think everybody's going to have to get the vaccine, there's no doubt about it. People are just too skeptical, they just don't know what's in it."

At Memorial University, few of the students who spoke to The Telegram were planning to get the shot.

Many were concerned about the short time frame in which the vaccine was developed, and are biding their time until more information is available.

Some said they wouldn't get vaccinated because they didn't know anything about the vaccine or had heard conflicting information. Some said they didn't feel they needed it.

First-year student Stephen Leamon said he doesn't trust the vaccine.

"I've heard it's potentially dangerous in terms of its side-effects. It's fairly low-chance, but given I'm a low-risk candidate, I don't think it's worth the risk."

Dr. Faith Stratton, the province's chief medical officer of health, has said the vaccine is safe. It was assessed in clinical trials prior to its release in Canada, and Stratton said most of the reactions that have been reported have been mild, such as a sore arm at the site of the injection, fever, fatigue and headache.

The drug provides 85 per cent of those who take it immunity against swine flu within 10 days. The federal government approved the drug Oct. 21.

As of Oct. 17, the H1N1 virus was responsible for 83 deaths in Canada, according to Canada's Public Health Agency - most of those who died were in high-risk categories, such as having pre-existing medical conditions which impaired their immune systems.

One of the latest casualties, a pre-teen girl from eastern Ontario, died on the weekend.

In this province, about 145 cases have been confirmed through lab tests since June.

Christine Young, a third-year psychology student at MUN, said she will be getting the shot because she trusts the information that has been made available.

She doesn't mind getting sick herself, but would like to do her part to make sure the virus doesn't spread.

"It's not just to protect yourself, like if I come into contact with people that are more at-risk," she said.

MUN student Alexander Troake said he's waiting to see how others react to it.

"I just don't want to rush out and get it," he said.

As an arts representative on the MUN students' union, he said he encourages students to get the shot, so long as they are comfortable with the manner in which it was approved and they don't mind needles.

Meanwhile, at a St. John's shopping mall Monday, five of six friends - older adults - having lunch were more interested in the vaccine than the students.

Georgina, who wished to be identified by her first name only, is asthmatic, so she said she has no other choice than to get it.

Those with chronic health conditions are among those who will benefit most from the vaccine, according to Eastern Health.

Elizabeth, who also asked that her surname not be used, said she'll get the shot "If I find out where to get it."

She hopes the shots will be available at doctors' offices as well as at mass immunization clinics.

Locations will be announced this week.

At the Health Sciences Centre, nurse Eva Tucker said she researched the new drug and thinks getting immunized against swine flu was the right thing to do.

"It's just not worth taking the chance. It's a good vaccine and I think we're really lucky to be in Canada where everybody gets it."

Sonya Stanford, the acting director of occupational health and safety at Eastern Health, said it's important for health-care workers to get immunized to protect their families, themselves and patients.

"We in health care have an obligation, we owe (it to) our patients to be prepared and not to spread it to them," she said.

Despite educational efforts on Eastern Health's part, Stanford said some employees are confused or in doubt about the vaccine.

Now that more information is available, she said, staff can make better informed decisions about receiving the vaccine.

"I think there's still some people on the fence. I think though, more people are convinced now to get it than they were last week because I think last week it was this mysterious vaccine that people didn't really know much about."

kbreen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Health Sciences Centre, MUN, Public Health Agency

Geographic location: Canada, St. John's, Eastern Ontario

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