VANCOUVER — British Columbia health officials are urging parents to get their young children vaccinated against influenza ahead of the holiday season as the province deals with crowded emergency rooms.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said after two years of low rates of flu, mostly due to travel restrictions, the province is seeing a "dramatic increase" in illness and it arrived sooner than normal.
"We know, much more than COVID, influenza can cause more severe illness in children, especially young children, and it can lead to secondary bacterial infections with things like streptococcus and pneumococcus that can cause very severe pneumonia," she said Monday.
"And so that's the concern that we have now."
Henry said there is still time for people to get a flu vaccine to protect themselves and their children, especially as the holiday season approaches.
"We're starting to see the impact of a large number of children who haven't been exposed to influenza for a few years and a small proportion of them are getting severely ill," she said.
"So now's the time to really make a difference and get that vaccine now."
According to the most recent numbers from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, for the week of Nov. 20, 169 patients were in BC Children's Hospital with some form of a respiratory virus. Of those, 71 had influenza.
Henry said the province started seeing influenza numbers climb about two weeks ago and that the flu season typically lasts about two months.
While the province is on track for a record number of people getting their flu shot this year, Dr. Penny Ballem, with BC Vaccine Operations, said Monday that only 20 per cent of children under five have been vaccinated.
The government will be using its provincial health registry to contact parents in an attempt to increase that number.
Ballem said they'll be sending texts and emails to the families of about 150,000 children under five who are not part of the province's vaccine booking system and inviting them to make appointments.
She said there's also a significant social media campaign from the government and health authorities encouraging people to get vaccinated.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said visits to provincial emergency rooms had been averaging 6,700 per day, but that is now peaking up to 6,900 patients daily, with extra pressure on BC Children's and Fraser Health hospitals.
B.C. Children's briefly called a code orange on Saturday, a step sometimes used in mass casualty events. It was lifted 28 minutes later.
Dix said it was determined the code did not need to be enacted in order to make the mandatory overtime call-out, which was required at the time.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.
The Canadian Press