Cases of respiratory infections continue to sweep across Vancouver Island and beyond, and as more information comes to light on how deadly this cold and flu season has been for children, the push is on to get more vaccinated.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a statement late Thursday acknowledging the deaths of six B.C. children, saying all of the cases were influenza-associated.
Among those who died was six-year-old Danielle Cabana from Richmond, B.C, a young girl with a passion for hockey who is now being mourned by family, friends and teammates.
“My thoughts are with families and communities impacted by the loss of a loved one,” said Henry.
But she said early findings suggest some of the children had secondary bacterial infections that contributed to their serious illnesses and eventual deaths.
“It is important to know that death associated with influenza in previously healthy children continues to be rare,” she said.
“The children who died included one who was younger than five years old, three who were between five and nine, and two adolescents who were between 15 and 19. Death associated with influenza in previously healthy children is a tragic, but rare event and is especially rare in school-age children and teens.”
More kids being admitted in Island Health
Still, some physicians say that the danger to kids has grown this season.
“We’re hearing reports of children dying at a higher rate than what we are used to seeing in a typical flu season,” said Dr. Anna Wolak, a family physician in Vancouver.
Wolak, along with B.C. health officials, is pleading with families to vaccinate their children. Earlier this week, officials said only 20 per cent of children under five have been vaccinated.
“That is the hardest part of this at the moment,” said Wolak.
Island Health confirmed with CHEK News its hospitals are seeing the same trend, an increase in the number of children admitted for respiratory illnesses, but the Health Authority would not make someone available to speak on camera Thursday.
While the number of respiratory infections appears to be rising, over-the-counter cold and flu medications for kids have not.
“Right now, we don’t have any Tylenol. So I can’t even show you Tylenol right now,” said Lindsay Dixon, a pharmacist at Heart Pharmacy.
A shelf that usually has kids cold and flu medication on it sits empty at Heart Pharmacy in Victoria. Dec. 8, 2022.
When the pharmacy does get a shipment, it’s keeping kids’ over-the-counter medication like children’s Tylenol behind the counter.
“People are panicking. And when there is panic, people are just going to do things that are maybe not the best for the community, right?” she said.
“It’s just a way the pharmacist can see the patient that most needs it. Not keep it from anyone. But make sure that no one is taking more than a bottle.”
Parents of especially vulnerable kids can seek measures like having a care provider prescribe Tamiflu in the early stages of an infection, and seek care for any breathing difficulty or a fever that goes away and comes back or lasts more than five days, Henry said in her statement.
She also reiterated advice familiar to many during the COVID-19 pandemic: Stay home if you’re sick, frequently wash your hands, cover your coughs, properly dispose of tissues and wear masks “when appropriate.”
However, calls have grown for Henry and the Health Minister Adrian Dix to reinstate mandatory masking as the threat of respiratory syncytial virus and influenza grow alongside the continued risk of COVID-19.
Dix has quashed any notion mandatory masking might return this season for facilities other then hospitals and other health-care settings. Henry, meanwhile, has said she doesn’t believe there’s a need for the “heavy hand” of another widespread mandate and that getting vaccinated is the best defence against the seasonal spike.
Pop-up vaccine clinics open this weekend
Now, the province is going ahead with its push for families and children to get vaccinated ahead of the holidays, beginning Friday.
“Lots of walk-in availability for families to bring their kids in,” Dr. Penny Ballem, the head of the province’s vaccine plan, said Monday.
“There is a lot of effort being made to make sure that we we’ve got the vaccine available. And it’s in convenient places that we are able to welcome families.”
Parents are encouraged to register their children to get vaccinated at the Get Vaccinated BC website. Families in Island Health can find the nearest pop-up flu vaccine clinic on the health authority’s website.