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I’m Shalu, a new reporter at The Discourse.
Last week, I received an email from a reader asking for information about flu shots and how to make an appointment. Given that it’s flu season – during a pandemic, no less – I thought it might be helpful to make a flu shot guide. I hope this helps.
What is the flu?
Island Health says the flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory disease that can lead to serious illness, hospitalization and death. The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) says the virus is highly changeable and can put people at risk for other infections like bacterial pneumonia.
Influenza symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle pain, runny nose, sore throat, extreme tiredness and cough, according to the BCCDC. Symptoms can begin about one to four days after a person is first exposed to the virus and can usually last seven to 10 days, with the cough and weakness lasting up to two more weeks. Children may also experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
How does it spread?
The BCCDC says influenza “spreads easily from person to person through breathing, coughing and sneezing.” It can also spread when a person comes in contact with tiny droplets from coughs or sneezes on another object and then touches their own mouth or nose before washing their hands. Adults can spread the flu virus from about one day before to five days after symptoms start and children can spread the virus up to 21 days after symptoms start.
How to prevent the flu
Washing hands regularly, eating well, exercising and getting the flu shot are recommended to reduce the risk of catching or spreading influenza to others, the BCCDC says.
This year in particular, Island Health says getting a flu shot is important not only for influenza prevention but to stay healthy while COVID-19 continues to circulate through communities.
Island Health says immunization is the best protection against the flu and that it is safe to get a flu shot during the pandemic, as providers are following COVID-19 protocols.
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends everyone six months of age and older should get a yearly flu shot, according to Immunize BC. Young children, those who are pregnant, the elderly and those who have certain medical conditions are at high risk of serious illness from the flu and can get the flu shot for free in B.C. A full list of people who are eligible for a free flu shot can be found on the HealthLink BC website.
Those who are not eligible for a free vaccine can still purchase one at most pharmacies and travel clinics. The cost is around $25 to 30, according to reporting by CBC News.
Children between the ages of two and 17 who are eligible for a flu vaccine can receive a nasal spray version instead, according to Immunize BC. It will be available at health units, some pharmacies and some doctors’ offices but people should call ahead to confirm.
This year, adults who are 65 years of age and older living in long-term care and assisted living facilities can receive a high-dose vaccine for free.
What is the flu shot, and how does it work?
The inactivated influenza vaccine is made of killed flu viruses, according to HealthLink BC. It is usually given by injection in one dose. Common reactions include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, aching muscles, and fatigue that can last one to two days. Fewer than one in 20 people may have oculo-respiratory syndrome which can cause red eyes, a cough, a sore throat and hoarseness. HealthLink BC says you cannot get the flu from the inactivated influenza vaccine because it contains killed flu viruses that can’t cause infection.
Here’s a helpful video from Ted-Ed explaining more about the flu shot and why people should get one every year.
Does it work?
Flu vaccines aren’t completely effective, but they do dramatically reduce the risk of getting sick and passing on illness to others. One study found last year’s vaccine was nearly 60 per cent effective at preventing the flu in Canada.
On an individual level, the vaccine can prevent illness and maybe reduce the severity if you get sick. On a population level, getting the vaccine reduces the transmission of disease through the community, protecting those around you and relieving stress on the healthcare system. That’s the main reason Immunize BC and others say it’s particularly important to get a flu shot this year, as COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise in the province.
How can I get a flu shot?
Island Health says flu shots are available from pharmacists for ages two and up, at primary care providers and at public health clinics. You can find public health clinics and book an appointment for a flu shot by visiting islandhealth.ca/flu. Or, use this map where you can find a flu clinic in your community, including clinics at pharmacies.
Alternatively, call your family doctor, a pharmacy or 811 to book an appointment.
Regardless of where you’re getting the flu shot, it’s best to call ahead to make an appointment and ensure they have the vaccine in stock. Island Health says to bring a non-medical mask or face covering to your appointment as well as your BC Services Card or other government identification. Remember to wear a short-sleeved shirt, too.
Island Health says it distributes flu vaccine orders to pharmacies and primary care providers on an ongoing basis. While some providers may use their supply quickly compared to others, the health authority says it is ensuring they receive new supply as orders are submitted. [end]
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