Ask Your Pharmacist
What is available for flu vaccines this fall?
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a viral illness causing fever, dry cough, headache, body aches, sore throat and a runny nose. Pregnant people, young children, seniors and those with chronic medical conditions or a weakened immune system are at the highest risk of severe infection and hospitalization.
The flu shot does not necessarily prevent you from getting the flu, but it helps to decrease how sick you may become. It is possible for healthy people to be infected with the influenza virus and have no symptoms, but still spread the virus to others. Therefore, to keep everyone as safe as possible it is recommended that everyone six months and older receive an annual flu shot.
Each year the flu vaccine is changed slightly to target the four most common influenza strains that are circulating. Based on the flu season that just ended in the southern hemisphere it is predicted that this year’s vaccine could reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalizations by 52% if the same strains continue to circulate during our flu season. This could result in a huge cost savings for our health care system by reducing hospitalizations and health care visits.
In New Brunswick, vaccinations became available on October 16. Anyone six months and older is eligible to receive the vaccine by injection. Injectables are non-live vaccines and cannot cause you to become infected with the influenza virus. They can, however, cause an immune reaction approximately 6-12 hours after the injection which causes fever, body aches and tiredness for one to two days but is not considered an illness that can be spread to others. Soreness at the injection site is the most common side effect and can be reduced by relaxing your muscle during the injection, keeping your arm moving after the injection, applying ice to the area and using over-the-counter pain relievers as needed.
A high-dose flu shot will be available for people 65 years of age and over and is four times more concentrated than the standard vaccine. Using a more concentrated vaccine stimulates a stronger immune response in older individuals, providing their high-risk population with enhanced protection against influenza.
With either injectable vaccine, it is important to avoid vaccination if you have a fever, a previous case of Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks of receiving the vaccine or an anaphylactic reaction to an ingredient in the vaccine except for eggs. Eggs are used in the manufacturing process of the vaccine and vaccines may contain small amounts of egg protein. We are advised this will not normally cause an allergic reaction and therefore is not a reason to not get the flu shot, but if you have concerns about the egg content of the vaccine, always discuss them with your health-care provider.
This year FluMist, which is a nasal spray flu vaccine, will be publicly funded for children 2-17 years old who have needle phobia and cannot receive the immunization by injection. FluMist will be reserved for children who meet those criteria only and stock usually arrives in pharmacies in November. The nasal spray is a live vaccine but it is a weakened version so it cannot cause influenza but can cause the side effects of a runny nose, headache and cough. This vaccine cannot be given to people with severe asthma on high-dose steroids, people with active wheezing, those with weakened immune systems, or during pregnancy.
It takes two weeks for your body to develop immunity after you have been vaccinated and protection lasts for approximately six months. Our flu season runs from November to April making October an ideal time to get the vaccine to have your immune system ready. Flu shots are offered all season long, so it is never too late to get vaccinated. Remember to regularly wash your hands and keep them away from your face, disinfect frequently touched surfaces (influenza can live on a doorknob for 48 hours), wear a mask in crowded areas and try to stay away from sick people to reduce your risk of catching the flu.
The updated COVID-19 vaccination will become available on the same day as the flu shots, and it is recommended to get both at the same time if you are eligible. If you choose to get them on different days, there is no recommended waiting time between getting a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine.
Erin Thompson (BSc, BScPharm) is a graduate of Dalhousie University and a community pharmacist practicing at Shoppers Drug Mart in Quispamsis N.B. Her opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.
The Ask Your Pharmacist column appears in New Brunswick newspapers for educational and informational purposes only. These opinions are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question you’d like to see answered, you can send it to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.