The way influenza shots are being distributed continues to change in southern Alberta.
Dr. Vivien Suttorp, Alberta Health Services medical officer of health for the south zone, said that trend certainly played out again this year, as mass flu clinics have come to an end.
"The total numbers are somewhat lower in the delivery by public health, but they've increased in pharmacies, which is good," said Suttorp, who added with the mass clinics concluded, locals can still book private appointments with public health, or visit their family doctor or local pharmacy to get a shot, which seems to be the trend. "Last year in southern Alberta, we had the highest number of influenza vaccines given out by our partners."
Having vaccine delivered in that manner is not a new concept, she added, but mentioned there has been a significant recent shift in the target audience for vaccination.
"What is new is since 2009, influenza vaccine became universal and free of charge for anyone six months and older. That is a big shift, from only having free vaccine available to high-risk groups."
That said, Suttorp added it takes time to build momentum among the majority of the population, toward making vaccinations a part of their annual routine.
"The elderly were early adopters, because they know the flu can be deadly for them," said Suttorp, who added other at-risk populations have been slower to jump on board. "Last year, I was amazed that even with children between five and eight with chronic conditions we had a low uptake."
What makes that perhaps even more disappointing is the vaccine has been hitting the mark recently in terms of targeting the right strains.
"All of the strains isolated in Alberta to date are all an exact match to the vaccine," said Suttorp. "It's a perfect match right now, but later on we might see different lineages creep in."
So far this year, southern Alberta has not been inundated with flu cases, but Suttorp added that doesn't typically happen until January, after the holidays, a period when many people get together in a short period of time, and the potential to spread the virus is higher. However, that typical trend did not play out in 2011.
"Last year, the peak was April, which was very unusual," said Suttorp, who added a usual year will see a slow rise in influenza cases from October through the rest of winter, though officials have noticed more cases pop up in southern Alberta over the last five weeks.
In the end, Suttorp added locals should subscribe to the usual rules to prevent the spread of the flu - get a flu shot, wash your hands, stay home when you're sick and observe cough etiquette
The last mass flu clinic for Lethbridge was Wednesday, while there are clinics today in Cardston (1-4 p.m. in the Community Health Building) and Foremost (10 a.m.-3 p.m. in the Medical Clinic) and Friday in Taber (1-4 p.m. in the Taber Community Health office) and Vauxhall (9 a.m.-noon in the Vauxhall Community Health building).