Alberta pediatricians want stronger public health measures for children's illnesses

CALGARY — Several pediatricians with the Alberta Medical Association are calling for stronger public health measures as children's hospitals continue to feel the strain of several respiratory illnesses.

The executive members of the association's pediatric section say in a statement that the number of pediatric flu hospitalizations in Canada is higher than levels seen at the peak of influenza season.

A national flu watch website by Health Canada shows influenza is widespread in much of Alberta.

The doctors say hospitalizations for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are also high in the province.

Dr. Tehseen Ladha, one of the doctors, adds that COVID-19 is also contributing to children's hospitalizations.

Ladha says some of the protective measures she and her colleagues are recommending include: providing more public information about the safety of flu and COVID-19 vaccines, making those vaccines more accessible, and bringing in temporary mask requirements for schools.

She says they have sent a letter to Dr. Mark Joffe, Alberta's acting chief medical officer of health, asking for the measures.

Joffe's office did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but he sent a letter on Nov. 23 to parents recommending flu vaccines for children six months and older. He also encouraged masks, but added it was a choice that should be respected.

Joffe, also a senior executive with Alberta Health Services, has not spoken publicly since he was brought in as Dr. Deena Hinshaw's replacement in mid-November.

Another pediatrician, Dr. Kyle Mackenzie, says stronger measures could provide much-needed relief.

"These protections will help decrease the spread of multiple viral illnesses, including RSV, influenza and COVID-19, that are increasing at alarming rates in our community," he said.

Dr. Sam Wong, president of the association's pediatric section, added that vaccines decrease the chance of severe outcomes and hospitalizations in children.

"We are urging public health officials to provide increased messaging around the safety and efficacy of both influenza and COVID-19 vaccines for children, and to ensure accessibility to these vaccines for all populations."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8. 2022.

The Canadian Press