Health authorities are urging Canadians to get a flu shot this year to avoid the spectre of a "twindemic," where the health-care system is overwhelmed by COVID-19 and influenza. British Columbia said Wednesday it has an extra 450,000 doses ready. (CBC News)

B.C. adds tens of thousands of flu vaccine doses to use this COVID fall

From the time COVID-19 made its way to Canada last winter, health professionals across the country have been concerned about what could happen in the fall when COVID would collide with the country’s flu season.

It’s no small matter.

On average 12,200 people in Canada are hospitalized every year because of the flu and 3,500 people die.

By comparison, the latest figures show over 134,000 COVID-19 cases in Canada this year and 9,155 deaths.

“Once we have influenza complicating things, and the other respiratory viruses that we see, it’s much more challenging to detect which one is influenza, which one is RSV … which one is COVID-19,” Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia Bonnie Henry warned in April.

On Tuesday, Henry clamped down on restaurants, bars and pubs in the province.

From left, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, Premier John Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry are seen Wednesday as they announced pandemic plans for the fall. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

On Wednesday, Henry, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan announced the province’s fall pandemic plan.

The plan will inject $1.6 billion into the health-care system, by–among other things–adding 7,000 health care workers making a record number of flu vaccine doses available.

The CBC’s Michelle Ghoussoub reports health authorities are seeking to avoid a scenario where surgeries must be widely delayed, as the province did in the spring as part of its emergency response to the pandemic.

The plan also focuses on boosting the capacity for contact tracing and COVID-19 testing, with the goal of being able to test 20,000 people per day, compared to the current capacity of around 8,000 to 10,000. 

As well, the province will also launch a “hospital-at-home” program, where eligible patients will receive treatment in their own homes, further easing demand for hospital beds and preventing the spread of the virus within health-care settings. 

The province says it has 533 “base beds” for COVID-19 patients spread across 19 hospitals.

A man adjusts a sign supporting health care workers in the West End of Vancouver in March. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Another key part of the plan, Ghoussoub writes, is to protect B.C.’s vulnerable seniors population, which bore the brunt of the pandemic in the spring.

Two thousand more staff will be hired in the province’s long-term care homes, along with 5,000 additional health-care aides.

A major objective is to reduce the usual demand for hospital beds by reducing seasonal flu cases, while boosting hospital surge capacity if there is a sudden influx of patients.

Henry said B.C. is ready.

It has purchased its highest-ever number of flu vaccines —1,965,000 doses.

That’s an extra 450,000 doses to what was already planned, bringing the total number of doses available to 2,045,000.

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. EDT on Sept. 10, 2020: There are 134,293 confirmed cases in Canada. — Quebec: 64,056 confirmed (including 5,771 deaths, 56,400 resolved) — Ontario: 43,685 confirmed (including 2,813 deaths, 39,332 resolved) — Alberta: 15,191 confirmed (including 248 deaths, 13,358 resolved) — British Columbia: 6,691 confirmed (including 213 deaths, 5,086 resolved) — Saskatchewan: 1,670 confirmed (including 24 deaths, 1,587 resolved) — Manitoba: 1,365 confirmed (including 16 deaths, 945 resolved) — Nova Scotia: 1,086 confirmed (including 65 deaths, 1,018 resolved) — Newfoundland and Labrador: 269 confirmed (including 3 deaths, 265 resolved) — New Brunswick: 192 confirmed (including 2 deaths, 186 resolved) — Prince Edward Island: 55 confirmed (including 44 resolved) — Yukon: 15 confirmed (including 15 resolved) — Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed (including 13 resolved) — Northwest Territories: 5 confirmed (including 5 resolved) — Nunavut: No confirmed cases — Total: 134,293 (0 presumptive, 134,293 confirmed including 9,155 deaths, 118,254 resolved) (The Canadian Press)

The province has also ordered 45,000 Fluzone High-Doses of the influenza vaccine for high-risk seniors, which will be made available to all residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities.

“Our fall influenza plan is going to be on a scale we have not yet seen,” she said.

“We know how important it is to protect all from influenza.”

Henry encouraged everyone in the province over six months old to be vaccinated against the flu.

The goal: to vaccinate nearly two million people, compared to the yearly average of around 1.4 million.

The flu immunization program is expected to cost $30 million. 

Also on Wednesay, B.C. health officials announced 100 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the province’s total to 6,691.

No new deaths related to the virus were reported, leaving B.C.’s death toll at 213.

With files from CBC NEWS (Michelle Ghoussoub), The Canadian Press

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