Ask Your Pharmacist

October 11, 2019
Q:

Did you see Oprah recommend everyone get the flu shot? I get mine each year, but some years I still get sick, so I’m not sure I see the value. What do you think?

A:

I missed Oprah on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, but her interview has sparked conversation about preventing respiratory infections. Influenza (flu) is a viral infection of the upper respiratory that is particularly prevalent in the fall/winter seasons. For most, the flu causes fever, muscle aches, sore throat, headaches, and a cough lasting seven to 10 days, but for some the flu can be debilitating. Seniors, those with health conditions and those with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to the flu, which can lead life-threatening complications like pneumonia (as was the case with Oprah). Pneumonia is a severe infection where bacteria get in the lung and cause the lung to fill with fluid. The fluid blocks the lung from getting oxygen to the blood and often results in hospitalization. Oprah had pneumonia and felt so concerned about it that she thought it was important to share her story and encourage others to get vaccinated against flu and other preventable illnesses. When Oprah speaks, people listen, and I certainly believe this is sound advice.

Vaccination helps prevent how many people suffer from, and spread some infections throughout the community. Vaccination is, at least in my opinion, one of the most beneficial accomplishments humanity has achieved. Remember small pox? Polio? I do not. Vaccination has made these things of the past. The recent measles outbreak in the Saint john area was a reminder that if we, as a community, neglect vaccination, this can have a negative impact on our community’s health and wellbeing. Beyond acute illness, the measles outbreak also caused missed work, missed school, and avoidance of loved ones for fear of spreading the measles. In addition, the outbreak made access to healthcare more difficult for those who need it. 

While some vaccines do not have to be done annually (tetanus is every ten years for example), you should get the flu vaccine every year because the flu virus is constantly changing. Not only are there over 100 different strains of influenza, but the virus is constantly mutating, and every decade or so we end up with a whole new type of flu virus like we did during the swine flu (H1N1) breakout in 2009. Keeping up with this ever-changing virus requires a global effort spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO). Data is collected year-round and analyzed by WHO to identify which flu strains are the most prevalent in circulation. Each year the most commonly prevalent strains are chosen to be covered by that year’s flu shot. Vaccines are then made and distributed for administration each fall in Canada. This year WHO has taken longer than usual to identify the most common strains in circulation, and this has delayed the availability of the flu shot for us.

The flu shot is the best way to help prevent catching the flu or unknowingly transmitting the flu to someone who may not be able to recover from the illness. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends the influenza vaccine for all Canadians aged six months or older who do not have contraindications to the vaccine.  This is also a good opportunity to discuss with your overall vaccine status with your pharmacist to ensure your routine vaccines are up-to-date and ensure you have the best protection against illness this winter.

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist at Guardian Pharmacy in Hampton and St. Stephen. His 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.