High-dose flu vaccine available now in N.S., updated COVID-19 shot later this month

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is beginning to roll out its vaccines for influenza and COVID-19, as the province sees virus activity that is well below what was seen at the height of the pandemic.

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday that while transmission of COVID-19 is increasing across the province, especially in long-term care homes, the outbreaks have been small.

“We are coming from very low activity, so even with a modest increase we are still at relatively low levels — far less than we’ve had in previous waves of the pandemic,” Strang said.

He said the latest COVID-19 strains are circulating in the province but added that the newest vaccines will provide protection.

Strang stressed that getting vaccines will be important this fall after low uptakes of COVID-19 booster shots last fall and in the spring, meaning that for many people it’s been a year since they had their last dose.

Nova Scotians aged 65 and older are being offered the high-dose influenza vaccine for free starting this week. The vaccine will be available at local pharmacies and medical clinics.

Later this month, the province will offer updated COVID-19 vaccines to people six months of age and older, and regular dose influenza vaccines for people six months to 64 years old.

The high-dose influenza vaccine is available now, while Moderna’s updated COVID-19 vaccine will be available the week of Oct. 16, the standard dose flu vaccine the week of Oct. 23, and Pfizer’s updated COVID-19 vaccine in late October or early November.

Strang said more than 300 pharmacies are offering vaccine bookings online, while a phone line will be available to make appointments after Thanksgiving.

“These are not like Taylor Swift tickets,” he said. “Over the course of the next few months there will be enough appointments and vaccines available for everyone who wants one.”

Strang said health officials look to trends in the Southern Hemisphere to anticipate possible seasonal patterns. This past winter saw typical rates of influenza and modest increases in COVID-19 activity in that part of the world, he said.

“This is reassuring, although it’s still certainly far too early to know exactly how things will play out here in Nova Scotia,” said Strang. “So we need to remain careful, but not alarmed.” Still, provincial health authorities are “actively looking” at whether to require that masks be worn at facilities such as hospitals and long-term care homes.

“For the general public we are not anticipating at all that we will go back to masking mandates,” Strang said. However, people who are sick with cold and flu symptoms and can’t stay home should definitely wear a mask to protect others, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press