Canadians continue to hear about the importance of getting the influenza vaccine this year as the healthcare system prepares to tackle COVID-19, the flu and other respiratory viruses, but everyone should consider getting the vaccination as soon as possible.
“The sooner you can get it into a patient, the better for the patient,” Jaspreet Chager, senior manager with Pharmacy Innovation of Pharmasave East told Yahoo Canada.
This year, the high-dose influenza vaccine for seniors age 65 and older is available at pharmacies, something Ontario Premier Doug Ford stressed as a particularly important achievement at a press conference on Tuesday.
“The only criteria is that they are 65-plus because in that age group is where we're seeing the evidence to suggest that it provides greater protection,” Chager said.
As the “rule of thumb” is to get the flu shot as soon as possible, there may be circumstances where a seniors may be better off getting the regular vaccine, due to availability.
“If you go into a pharmacy and they do not have the high dose, you may still be just better off getting any kind of influenza vaccination than not getting the high dose,” Chager explained. “If they don't have it, then have that conversation with the pharmacist to see what their best options are.”
“I would recommend patients...call their pharmacy to make sure that they have high dose in stock or even influenza vaccination and in stock, and take it from there.”
The pharmacist did say that depending on what supply looks like and how many doses pharmacies end up receiving, there could be a situation where the high-dose vaccine is focused on the most high risk groups of seniors.
In Ontario, the province has promised to prioritize the distribution of the vaccine to people in long-term care homes, hospitals and retirement home.
Flu shots will be available in Canada around mid-October.
Increased interest in vaccinations
Chager identified, through her own professional experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increased interest in vaccines more broadly.
“I've actually seen it with other vaccinations as well, not just influenza,” she said. “I'd say that maybe there is just a little bit more acceptance of the value of vaccinations.”
Pharmasave conducted a survey 7,000 consumers across Ontario and Atlantic Canada, which found that 86 per cent of respondents said they plan to get a flu shot this year, up from 78 per cent last year.
“I'm sure that the fall season and patients being really uneasy about getting sick during these months has a lot to do with the sentiment to get the influenza vaccination,” Chager said.
In Ontario, it’s recommended that anyone six months and older receive the influenza vaccination but pharmacies are only able to inject in people over the age of five.
‘It is still possible to get influenza after receiving the influenza vaccination’
The influenza vaccine will not have an impact on someone’s ability to get COVID-19, but it also does not mean they can’t get the flu at some point over the coming months.
“It is still possible to get influenza after receiving the influenza vaccination,” Chager said. “But what happens is that the outcomes that the patient fares are much, much less severe.”
If anyone suspects that they have symptoms that could be either the flu or COVID-19, the only way to really rule out one or the other is to get tested.
“Unfortunately, because there's so much overlap between the two, the only way to definitively know is to actually just get a COVID test done,” Chager said.