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Olympic Athletes, Fans Offered H1N1 Vaccination by Host B.C.

British Columbia is offering an interesting gift to athletes and spectators attending the Winter Olympics in Vancouver– a free H1N1 shot.

The campaign is part of Canada’s attempt to prevent another wave of the flu virus and keep participants and fans healthy at the Games. About 40 percent of British Columbia’s residents have been vaccinated, but the other 60 percent are also being encouraged to do so ahead of the Olympics, the Vancouver Sun reported.

A surplus of H1N1 vaccine has made it possible for B.C. to extend the service to Olympic visitors and participants. But Canada is not the only one who has been concerned about a possible outbreak. The U.S. Olympic Committee held an event in early January to encourage athletes to be vaccinated and the International Olympic Committee has strongly urged participants to get the vaccine.

In October, when H1N1 vaccine was in high demand and short supply around the world, the chief medical officer for Canada’s Olympic team even called for Olympic athletes to be included in the priority groups given earliest access, but that request that was denied.

The WHO declared the 2009 H1N1 virus a pandemic last summer, but this flu season has been less severe than many public health officials feared. WHO officials will be on hand at the Olympics to monitor the situation, but the IOC has already said it will not be quarantining athletes who come down with H1N1.

Reka Gustafson, director of communicable disease control for the regional health care provider Vancouver Coastal Health told CNN International it was unlikely that Olympic events would be shut down, even if a wave of H1N1 spreads during the Games.

“In all of pandemic planning it has been recognized for some time that cancellation of mass gatherings is not an effective way to control influenza,” Gustafson said. “I can categorically say that we are not planning that.”

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