In face of deadly flu epidemic, kids are being recruited to spread the flu vaccine

Toronto Public Health has brought in the Avengers to tackle a cold and flu outbreak that has seen hundreds of people hospitalized since the beginning of the new year. The district’s acting director of communicable disease control, Dr. Ken Murray, announced on Thursday that nearly 700 children have fallen ill with the most common strain of the flu. He also believes that the strain, called Influenza A-H3N2, is causing the majority of hospitalizations in Toronto, and that the majority of those infected are under the age of five years old. “Clearly this has been the year of severe illness,” Dr. Murray said.

Due to this, three superhero groups have been deployed to improve the health of children in Toronto: Mattel’s Power Rangers, the Daffodil Brothers, and the Hulk. Each of these groups has its own set of superhero costumes with names and slogans, including “Ironpants,” “Hulk Thick,” and “Teacher’s Pet.” The Daffodil Brothers will be working in elementary schools, encouraging children to get a flu shot. Mattel’s Power Rangers, meanwhile, will be training students in the use of their toys to trick people into thinking they have flu symptoms so that they can get a shot quicker. The legendary Marvel hero, The Hulk, will also be recruiting volunteers to inform people about the importance of vaccination. “I will be leading a force of the Hulkians to remind people to get vaccinated,” said Hulk.

That said, it may be hard to convince young children to get vaccinated if their teacher or the Hulk point them to the school nurse and give them a choice of do-or-die vaccines. While some children are aggressive about keeping their classmates and siblings healthy, parents and teachers can play an important role in discouraging these biases. Pediatricians also have a role to play in overcoming society’s anxieties surrounding flu shots. Studies show that 92 percent of pediatricians have the correct information about flu vaccines, but that only 46 percent of parents always receive vaccine-related information from their pediatricians.

The superheroes will travel the city to spread their message, with plans to distribute flu shots to as many students as possible. Dr. Murray has encouraged parents to refrain from having their children vaccinated until later in the season, because otherwise they may “catch flu and likely spread it to others.” He also urged teachers and parents to encourage their children to get vaccinated on their own.

When I was in school, there were about eight teachers who refused to administer vaccine shots for the kids. Why should my kids have to go back to school just because of that selfish act? — Emma Stevens (@EmmaStevens) January 10, 2019

Toronto saw around 320 hospitalizations for flu-related pneumonia and “severe” flu infection in 2018. Dr. Murray, however, expects the number of infections to decrease this year. “The peak time for the flu is right now,” he said. “It will get worse in the next week or so. We have not got the population and locations where we want it to peak, so it will continue to spread. But by the end of the winter, we will be more in the mode of peak transmission season.” He hopes that young children will embrace the superheroes in order to keep them healthy.

“I am excited for those kids because we have recruited them as the ambassadors of the flu,” Dr. Murray said. “Just because one kid doesn’t want to get immunized, it doesn’t mean they are not out there talking to others about the importance of getting vaccinated.”

Read the full story at The Globe and Mail.


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