Manitoba flu vaccination rates spike following deaths of two young people

More Manitobans are rolling up their sleeves and opting to get the flu shot, after a recent spike in illnesses led to the deaths of two young people.

On Friday, Manitoba hit a new high for flu vaccinations, with nearly 25 per cent of people in the province getting their shot.

That number has risen steadily since December to the highest vaccination rate the province has seen in recent years.

READ MORE: Manitoba 2019-20 flu vaccinations well below national average

According the province’s flu numbers, 19.9 per cent of people had gotten their flu shot by the start of December.

That number slowly increased to 22 per cent at the beginning of the year.

The latest numbers show that nearly a quarter of people in the province are now vaccinated.

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“While immunization rates vary from year to year, it’s encouraging to see that more Manitobans are choosing to get their flu vaccination this year,” Manitoba Health said in a statement to Global News.

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While Manitoba Health couldn’t say why more people are choosing to get vaccinated, the husband of a Morden, Man. woman who died from the flu earlier this year hopes her death has helped spark the increase.

“It makes me feel really happy,” Dustin Ens said.

“It means people are taking it seriously.”

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Ens’ wife Joanne, 24, was one of four people who died in January from flu complications.

READ MORE: Winnipeg teen, Manitoba woman die from flu complications

He said she had flu-like symptoms on Jan. 1 and they only got worse over the next few days.

She was eventually airlifted to St. Boniface Hospital before dying on Jan. 6. Joanne had not received the flu shot.

“If we had gotten our flu shots in time, it probably would have been prevented,” said Ens.

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Manitoba Health says it’s prepared to handle coronavirus cases

Since her death, Dustin has been speaking out, hoping to encourage those around him to get vaccinated.

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“I decided that first morning if I can help one single person, and Joanne would want it, that’s how I am continuing,” he said.

Blaine Ruppenthal, a 17-year-old high school student, also died in January after flu complications.

READ MORE: Winnipeg’s hospitals over-capacity as flu season grips the city: WRHA

The deaths and increase in vaccinations come just weeks after the health authority spoke out about an unprecedented year for the flu, which has led to a spike in hospital visits, overcapacity problems and lengthy hospital waits.

In January, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) said influenza had stretched the health care system extremely thin, with influenza A, B, and a respiratory illness all manifesting at once this year.

The WRHA released numbers comparing December 2019 to the same time in 2018, and said between 120 and 130 more patients were showing up at emergency departments each day.

Of those, 22 required emergency treatment, and seven needed to be admitted.

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