As the province gets ready to start its annual influenza vaccination program – there’s a less painful option available for the younger Albertans, and it’s the first time it’s been widely available.

When the province kicks off its vaccine program on October 15, Alberta Health Services officials said the ‘FluMist’ nasal spray will be available for all Albertans aged 2 to 17-years-old.

“We’re doing it in that age group, because there’s evidence that’s the most effective way to get their immunity up,” Dr. James Talbot, AHS Chief Medical Officer of Health said Tuesday.

The flu vaccine protects against two influenza strains, and also covers H1N1, in an effort to avoid a pandemic similar to what happened a few years ago.

“We saw more people hospitalized, and more deaths in the 20-45 year-old age group,” Dr. Talbot said.

Officials said they hope to vaccinate one million Albertans this year, which would mark an improvement from the year before.

“Last year I think we immunized about 875,000 people, across the province,” Dr. Gerry Predy said. “[That’s] roughly a quarter of the province.

“We’d like to do much better than that.”

Officials said immunization is recommended for everyone, those at high-risk of severe complications from the flu – such as children aged between 6 and 23 months, anyone over 65 years of age, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions – are encouraged to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

The vaccine will be available through public immunization clinics, as well as through some pharmacists, and doctor’s offices.

Full schedules and locations for immunization clinics can be found online, or through Health Link Alberta (in Edmonton call 780-408-LINK (5465), and outside of Edmonton call the toll-free line at 1-866-408-LINK).

AHS will also add a special category for influenza immunization clinics to the AHS App for iPhone and Android – which can also be found online.

With files from Carmen Leibel