Dear Colleagues,

UHN is expecting our initial supply of H1N1 vaccine either today or Monday and we will launch our first flu shot campaign as soon as we have vaccine. We're staffing up for the campaign, flu carts are ready to roll, and the all-important supply of chocolate bars is here and will be on the carts for those receiving the H1N1 flu shot.

This has been a confusing flu season so we thought it worthwhile to remind you about where information is about this vaccine, how UHN is approaching this flu, and any other question you may have about the H1N1 flu. All of the information may be found at http://intranet.uhn.ca/home/pandemic/index.asp and we encourage you to read the material.

We also thought we'd answer a few of the most common questions in this Straight Talk.

Q  Do you recommend getting the H1N1 flu shot and will you be getting it?
A  Both of us will be getting the flu shot and we think that everyone working at UHN should get the flu shot. By doing so you will most likely avoid a pretty miserable week in bed with the flu and you will protect those around you from possible exposure to flu. This is particularly important for health care workers as we see so many immune-compromised patients every day.

Q I'm worried that this vaccine has been rushed and that it isn't safe so why should I take that chance?
A  A standard process to get Health Canada approval has been followed by the drug company for the H1N1 vaccine. This involves analysing all of the information gathered from other countries using the same kind of vaccine and continuing to study the vaccine here in Canada. The federal government agency responsible for monitoring this process has not altered its oversight and it is satisfied that the vaccine is safe to use. The fact that we are getting the vaccine a little earlier than originally projected is simply because the process ended up going a little faster than expected.

Q  When will UHN distribute Tamiflu?
A  Our purchase of Tamiflu was always intended as a method of keeping staff well and able to work prior to a vaccination becoming available. Now that an H1N1 vaccine is available, our recommendation is that staff use the vaccine to protect themselves. It is important to remember that the vaccine can provide a lasting immunity to the H1N1 virus while prophylaxis only protects for a short period of time, while taking the medication. It is highly unlikely that we will need to distribute Tamiflu now to all staff.

Q  I'm pregnant. Should I take the vaccine?
A  This subject is addressed extensively in our employee handbook (see link above) and we recommend that you discuss with your family physician or obstetrician if you have further concerns. The recommendation of both Infection Prevention and Control and Occupational Health & Safety is that pregnant staff be vaccinated against H1N1 for the reasons outlined in the manual.

Q  I want the vaccine.  Who is getting it first?
A  First, let us clarify that all employees at UHN will be offered the H1N1 vaccine, regardless of age or other factors. Occupational Health & Safety will take the flu carts to the areas at UHN where people are most likely to come in to contact with flu or where patients are likely to be immune compromised or very ill. We will start in the emergency departments, the oncology units and in the ICUs and then proceed to the medical units and the rest of the hospital. Our plan is to start as soon as we receive vaccine which could be today. Following this effort, the carts will continue to be throughout the hospitals and all you have to do is show your badge and roll up your sleeve.

Q  I think I had H1N1 this spring. Should I get the shot?
A  If you have had a documented infection with H1N1, you do not need to get the vaccine. The virus has remained stable so you are naturally protected. We are not doing serology (antibody) testing to tell people if they have had H1N1 or not. We would advise everyone who suspects, but is not sure if they had H1N1, to get the vaccine. There have been many other respiratory pathogens circulating that may look and feel like H1N1 but are not.

We'll close by asking that you protect yourself, your family and your patients by getting the flu shot this year.

Bob Bell and Susy Hota

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