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Flu shot may be of no benefit for healthy people

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Richard Schabas expressed concern about the cost and effectiveness of flu shots.

He said the 2014 program cost about $100 million with five million Ontarians vaccinated, yet the vaccine was of no net benefit because it was a poor match against the most active strain of influenza virus.

“The likelihood is that this year’s vaccine will also be a poor match,” he said. “The vaccine has benefits, but its effectiveness is much poorer than we thought.”

As a result, he recommends only individuals who are considered high-risk (the elderly and those with serious chronic illness) and health care workers who work directly with high-risk individuals be vaccinated.

“It remains an individual choice,” he added. “The vaccine is available for free to all Ontarians over six months of age and it is safe to receive. However, if you are a healthy individual, you don’t need it.”

At the monthly meeting of the board of health for Hastings and Prince Edward counties, Schabas said the the annual provincial universal influenza immunization program has been in place in Ontario for 15 years, and a formal review has never been conducted.

The Board of Health will be writing to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care to urge a timely review of the annual provincial universal influenza immunization program.

HPEPH is offering its annual community influenza clinics between Oct. 20th and Nov. 25th. The clinic schedule is available on the health unit website.

Dr. Schabas also provided a report to the board about funding for the year ending December 31, 2015 from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

“For our organization, this effectively represents an annual reduction of 1.5%, or $200,000, in funding. The new provincial funding formula is flawed and will seriously impact our budget and our ability to deliver public health services.

The ministry’s new funding formula for public health agencies saw HPEPH receive some one-time funding associated with a few priority programs, but Schabas said the new formula “has resulted in its base funding being red-circled, with no increase in funding for most programs. Twenty-eight of the 36 public health agencies in Ontario have had their base funding red-circled, and this will continue for at least six more years,” he said.

The board will express concerns to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and also plans to brief local members of provincial parliament.

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