Same message, different virus: Starting Monday, influenza vaccinations available in Alberta

·3 min read
Pharmacist Shivali Sharma gives a flu shot at one of her Shoppers Drug Mart locations in Edmonton. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBCNEWS - image credit)
Pharmacist Shivali Sharma gives a flu shot at one of her Shoppers Drug Mart locations in Edmonton. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBCNEWS - image credit)

Last year, more than 1.6 million Albertans were vaccinated against influenza and there was not one single lab-confirmed case of the illness.

This year, the level of influenza is expected to be significantly different but the message about getting vaccinated hasn't changed.

"We had 1.6 million doses administered to Albertans last year, which was the highest number that we have seen in the last 10 years," said Shivali Sharma, a pharmacist who owns two Shoppers Drug Marts in Edmonton.

"So that, along with the public health restrictions that were in place last year, is what led to not having any reported cases of flu in our province."

This year's flu season has already started. As of Thursday, three lab-confirmed cases of influenza had been reported in the province, according to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.

As of Monday, flu shots are available to all Albertans over six months of age. The vaccinations, which are free, are being offered by participating pharmacies and doctors' offices.

Alberta Health Services that children under age five and their families can get the vaccine at AHS immunization clinics, which will begin at the end of the month.

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, a family physician in Calgary, said the public health restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic are different than they were a year ago and that will contribute to an increase in influenza cases.

"We've started to emerge from our bubbles, we're starting to see more and more colds starting to show up," said Bhardwaj.

"Now that there's more international travel and fewer restrictions in terms of masking and isolating and things like that, we expect that the influenza season this year will be bigger."

It's not easy to predict the levels of influenza that Alberta will experience but with the current pressure that COVID-19 is putting on the health-care system, there is very little room for any additional cases in the hospital, he said.

In 2019-20, there were 8,470 lab-confirmed cases of the flu, which included 1,595 hospitalizations and 41 deaths, according to AHS statistics. About 1.4 million Albertans received the influenza vaccine that season.

Sharma has been offering flu shots for people over 65 since Oct. 1 and said there has been a steady stream of people seeking the vaccination.

Her pharmacies are now offering both flu shots and the COVID-19 vaccine, which can be administered at the same time. Previously, health officials had advised a waiting period in between the two.

"As of right now, that waiting period has been removed," Sharma said.

"It is completely safe to receive the flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine together."

No appointments are necessary at pharmacies, added Sharma, who is very hopeful that people will make the effort to get one.

"[The vaccine] is an effective tool in the fight against flu, and we really need to make sure that people are taking advantage of it so that we can curb the spread of flu, the same way that we did last year."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting