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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Saskatchewan expands flu vaccine to more people after getting 107,000 doses

REGINA - Saskatchewan is expanding flu immunization to everyone between the ages of two and 59 who can take a nasal spray vaccine.

The province has received a shipment of 107,000 doses of FluMist from the United States to help meet unusually high demand.

"Our goal is to get as much vaccine into people as quickly as possible given where we are in the flu season," Dr. Denise Werker, the province's deputy medical health officer, said Tuesday.

"We have some information that we have probably just hit the peak. But we know that what we get on the way up, we usually get on the way down, and that there may be another blip of influenza later in the year, in the spring."

The peak is judged by the number of lab-confirmed cases and how quickly that figure climbs.

Flu-related deaths in Saskatchewan stood at 12 as of Friday. Werker has said almost all of those people had underlying health conditions.

H1N1 has been the dominant flu strain in the province so far this year, but Werker said sometimes a different strain strikes later in the season.

A vaccine shortage earlier this month forced health officials to limit immunizations to children under five, pregnant women and people with low immunity.

The catch is that the nasal spray can't be used on children under the age of two, pregnant women and the immune compromised. Officials also say FluMist is not recommended for health-care workers treating patients who require hospitalization in a protective environment.

There are about 10,000 injectable vaccines left in the province for people who can't take the nasal vaccine, said Werker.

More injectable vaccine is expected in early February.

Werker also said vaccine coverage is up in Saskatchewan. For example, about 24 per cent of children between the ages of six months and two years were vaccinated by the end of December. That has now increased to about 36 per cent.

"So a great increase in a highly vulnerable population. We are thrilled that we've made that impact," said Werker.

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