‘Vaccine fever’ hits East York

East Yorkers began lining up in earnest yesterday for the H1N1 flu vaccine.

And Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s medical officer of health, is encouraging everyone to roll up their sleeves for this particular shot in the arm.

The East York Civic Centre was one of only two venues for Toronto Public Health immunization clinics to open yesterday — five days earlier than planned, following a sudden spike in swine flu cases, and the death of a Toronto teenager from the virus.

Some members of the public even showed up at Toronto East General Hospital on Wednesday, for a clinic meant only for health-care workers.

Those workers are among the “priority groups” for H1N1 vaccination, eligible for shots at the civic centre now. The other priority groups are: pregnant women; people living with babies under six months old or people with compromised immune systems; children between the ages of six months and five years; and people under 65 who have chronic conditions.

The clinic for those groups re-opens on the lower level of the civic centre, at Coxwell and Mortimer avenues, at 10 a.m. tomorrow and runs until 4 p.m. No clinic is planned for Sunday.

People not in these categories can get their shots at the centre starting on Monday. The general public clinic is scheduled to run: 1-7 p.m., Monday-Friday; 10-4 next Saturday, Nov. 7; then Tuesday-Friday, Nov. 10-13, 1-7 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 14, 10-4.

The rate of H1N1 is escalating rapidly, with 115 reported cases in Toronto since September — and 68 of those cases produced in the last week alone.

 “The number of cases in Toronto is increasing significantly,” McKeown told a Wednesday news conference.

The medical officer of health also had an answer to rumours about the vaccine, circulating largely on the Internet:

”The vaccination is 90 percent effective,” he said. “It will help to slow down transmission and protect your immune system.”

The H1N1 vaccination contains adjuvants, which is a chemical that boosts the immune system. This is the first licensed flu vaccine in Canada that contains adjuvants.

Although McKeown says H1N1 should be taken seriously, there is no need for panic.

 “I think it is unfolding the way influenza outbreaks unfold,” McKeown said. “We expect to see at this time of year an increase in influenza activity. H1N1 is the dominant influenza strain which is circulating this season.”

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, director of communicable disease control, recommends that people come to the immunization clinics prepared.

 “People should wear clothing that is appropriate for receiving the vaccine in the upper arm,” she said. “For parents of young children, bring the child’s health card, water, healthy snacks, toys and colouring books to keep the children occupied.”

She added: “We are asking all members of the general public who are not in one of the priority groups but are anxious to get the vaccine to please wait until Monday. The H1N1 vaccine is important for preventing illness. The more people get vaccinated, the more likely we are to halt the spread of the illness related to H1N1.”

In the meantime, people should continue to take the following precautions when it comes to preventing the spread of H1N1. According to the Toronto Public Health website:

• Sneeze and cough into your sleeve, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue

• Wash your hands often and thoroughly, at least 15 seconds, with soap and warm water

• Stay home if you are ill