Newfoundland and Labrador rolls out free or low-cost pneumococcal vaccine

Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia join Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia in offering free or low-cost vaccines to residents

Three more provinces, Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia, have announced plans to offer free or low-cost pneumococcal vaccines to children aged one through 17 to prevent a common infection that has historically been linked to serious illness and even death.

COVID-19 is a pneumococcal vaccine program that aims to control the spread of pneumococcal disease among one to 14-year-olds in five Atlantic provinces: Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.

Organizers say about 60% of the more than 300 children with pneumonia in the Atlantic region acquired the infection from pneumococcal bacteria. But the large proportion of pneumococcal disease diagnosed in children in Canada is not specifically connected to particular cases in Canada.

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The virus is usually spread by coughing or sneezing. A common symptom is a fever, a cough or infection in the lower respiratory tract.

About 5% of children are thought to get this infection while none of them need immediate medical attention. But pneumonia and bacterial meningitis can affect the body’s organs and severely restrict lung function.

The infection can lead to severe, kidney and heart failure and death if left untreated.

An increasing number of Canadians have been able to avoid contact with invasive pneumococcal bacteria after receiving vaccinations, because these bacteria commonly circulate in the intestinal tract.

In most cases, the child has only minor symptoms, but in some the infection is aggressive and can lead to severe and even life-threatening complications.

Despite the improvements, this vaccine does not protect against new strains of the bacteria that have recently appeared. There is no current vaccine that can replace the COVID-19 vaccine for preventing certain types of pneumococcal disease, and health authorities believe that introduction of COVID-19 will help control the spread of the disease.

Participating provinces are scheduled to begin offering the COVID-19 pneumococcal vaccine to children between May and September 2019.

As of 1 April 2019, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia have completed their rollout of COVID-19 vaccination programs to all households, and are active on the marketplace.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s rollout began in October 2018. At present, doctors are following up with all 11,000 eligible children for vaccination as well as to encourage other parents to ensure their children have had the vaccine. In addition, the province is working with public schools to ensure that all students receive their immunizations as scheduled.

Quebec’s COVID-19 programme will see the inoculation of more than 80,000 children under the age of 10 between March and December.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has said that in the last four years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people with pneumococcal disease, especially in children under two years of age, and also notes that people over 65 are at higher risk than children under 14.

The province will be offering free, reduced or free pneumococcal vaccine to all children between six months and 18 years of age, and to those who are immuno-compromised. Immunization will be offered in schools, health care facilities and to children residing in vulnerable populations such as the homeless, rural or isolated communities, Aboriginal people, and people aged 65 and over.

The province also hopes to deliver the vaccine via post-school-activities, such as movie nights, day camps, outings, community theatre shows, birthday parties, picnics and sand castles.

In Ontario, a campaign has begun to increase the number of children up to four years of age who are vaccinated. However, the province’s next step is to establish a national campaign to vaccinate all children aged six months to 12 years of age.

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