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Behind the scenes at flu prevention HQ

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun

Yesterday saw the launch of Toronto's Flu campaign, with 110 nurses staffing free immunization clinics at malls and community centres all over the city from Oct. 28 to Nov. 29.
As a health promotion consultant for the city's flu prevention program, Linda MacDougall oversees publicizing vaccination options to the public.

According to the Toronto Public Health website, 25% of Canadians get the flu each year. The goal of the clinics are to minimize the number of people infected. For most of us, the symptoms, including fever, muscle aches, and a cough, can last up to a week.

For the elderly and those with medical conditions like chronic bronchitis, diabetes or chronic heart disease, however, a bout of the flu can result in serious complications, and each year about 1,500 people die as a result of this virulent bug.

And so a whole army of people work together in Toronto each year to create a flu campaign to inform the Canadian public about who should be immunized and where they can get their free flu shot.

One of the key players is Linda MacDougall, a health promotion consultant for the Vaccine Preventable Disease Program at Toronto Public Health. She oversees the creation of promotional materials publicizing the flu campaign, to write articles, and to have direct contact with the public, giving them quality information about who should be vaccinated and why.

"These last few months have been very hectic. We start working on the flu campaign in July even though the clinics open in October. So for instance, I create promotional materials that are distributed to schools, day cares, hospitals and pharmacies," she says.

It's MacDougall's job to ensure the leaflets are accurate and that all deadlines are met. She liaises between the desktop publishing department, the communications staff, management and others in the Vaccine Preventable Disease Program.

MacDougall is also a registered nurse and has her master's degree in education. The former helps her understand the science behind the flu virus, and academic skills help her communicate this information to others.
Who Should Be Immunized?

 According to Toronto Public Health, everyone six months of age or older, including breastfeeding or pregnant women, can get a flu shot. But there are some exceptions.
 People who are allergic to eggs, thimerosol, neomycin or gelatin should not receive the vaccine.
 Those who have had a reaction to a flu shot in the past should consult their doctor before getting this year's shot.
 Anyone with a fever should wait until they've completely recovered before receiving their shot.
 Anyone with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome after receiving the flu shot should not receive a shot.

According to Ameeta Mathur, the manager of Vaccine Preventable Disease Program, designing and implementing the flu campaign is a real team effort.

"This is our largest campaign that we do, because we really have no boundaries with this program in terms of who we immunize," Mathur says. In the city of 2.4 million people, we'd like to touch everyone and offer the service to as many people as we can."

The program culminates in November, when thousands of people will flock to the clinics to be vaccinated.

"We see people lined up at our clinics who have come out and they read our material. They've heard our message and they want to come out and protect themselves and their families. That's the most satisfying thing for me," Mathur says.

For more information on the flu, call the Immunization Information Line: 416-392-1250 or visit the Toronto Public Health website:

(Reach freelancer Susan Poizner at (

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