Ontario agrees to vaccinate children as young as five

Flu season is fast approaching. This year is predicted to be one of the worst on record, with the first cases of the flu reported in January.

Ontario is one of a handful of provinces that is taking steps to vaccinate children as young as five against the seasonal flu. The province is in “advanced talks” with Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), the manufacturer of the child-sized flu shot, to get vaccines into the hands of around 600,000 eligible children.

The move is part of a larger push to raise awareness about preventable diseases and implement a new policy to vaccinate younger children. Last year, the Ontario government did not vaccinate anyone under 13, drawing criticism from health experts who worried it could lead to complications, including flu, if those kids got the illness later in life. This year, they’re making an exception for around 400,000 kids under five. The remainder of the province’s children under 12 are supposed to be vaccinated at their own expense, said Ted DeJong, a senior health adviser in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

The five-inch-wide syringe used to give the shot was developed in the United States after the easy-to-hold so-called nasal spray type vaccines were phased out in favour of a child-sized version that fits in the palm of the hand. The manufacturer is required to only make vaccine available in Canada only to provinces that are able to commit to contracts for child-sized flu shots.

“I think Merck is working through some production issues that [the company] anticipated,” DeJong said. The problem will be resolved by October or November, he said. “I’m confident they’ll be able to deliver a [child-sized vaccine] that will fit into what we’re planning to deliver to schools.”

At least one other Canadian province is using the concept of child-sized vaccines. New Brunswick is turning to MSD to make a shot that fits into a child’s hand. The vaccine won’t be made available to children until 2015, if at all.

“We’re working with [MSD] to build up the supply as fast as possible,” said Arlene King, the executive director of the New Brunswick Public Health Laboratory. “I would imagine as soon as the supply was available we would see orders and we’d be on track to get it done.”

Kids living in rural or remote areas could get vaccinated sooner. The only rural area of the province outside of Fredericton, New Brunswick does not have a pediatric clinic. “So while we could move these kids out of the way as quickly as possible, they’re going to stay inside that queue,” King said.

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