Ask Your Pharmacist

September 10, 2020
Q:

The flu shot doesn’t protect me against COVID-19, so why should I bother to get it?

A:

Getting a flu shot is the best thing that you can do as a New Brunswicker to protect yourself against the flu (seasonal influenza).

Influenza is a viral respiratory infection that affects millions of Canadians every year, especially seniors, children, and those with chronic health conditions. An infected individual can be contagious before showing any symptoms and can quickly spread the illness. While most people recover in seven to 10 days, people can get severely ill from the flu. 

During the 2019-2020 influenza season in New Brunswick, there were 959 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza A, 1379 cases of influenza B, and 13 cases of combined influenza A and B. More than 200 New Brunswickers were hospitalized with flu last season, with 43 requiring an intensive care unit admission. Eleven New Brunswickers died from influenza during the 2019-2020 flu season. By comparison, to date New Brunswick has had 192 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with two deaths.

Getting a flu shot will help protect you from getting the flu, or at least lessen the severity and duration of illness that you experience. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to prevent influenza. While it is true that the flu shot will not protect you against COVID, it is highly probable that people who get both influenza and COVID-19 will have worse health outcomes. Immunization protects not only yourself, but also the vulnerable in our population. Deciding not to get immunized affects more than you; it affects everyone you come in contact with in your life: your immediate family, your co-workers, your gym buddies, your barber, the grocery store staff, front line health care workers, and the list goes on.

At a time when we are eagerly anticipating the availability of a vaccine active against COVID-19 so that life can return to “normal”, it is personally hard for me to imagine someone making a decision not to get the flu shot. 

During the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, worldwide, as many as 40 million people died. It was not until 1942 that we finally had a vaccine active against both influenza A and B.  

Infection Prevention and Control Canada has a great explanation of how vaccines work (https://ipac-canada.org/influenza-resources.php ). The influenza vaccine is composed of killed influenza virus strains that were in circulation in the previous year as well as those determined to be a risk for the current year. The virus is treated in the laboratory so that it will not cause disease, but the body will recognize it as a foreign "invader" and produce antibodies against it. By having antibodies build up before influenza appears, we have the ability to fight off the virus before it can cause disease. There are two main types of influenza viruses (A and B) but many different strains of each type. Two strains of influenza A (including the H1N1 2009 pandemic strain) and two strains of influenza B will be included in the 2020-2021 vaccine.

For the 2020-2021 Influenza season, a Universal Vaccine Program will be publicly funded for all New Brunswick residents. Quadrivalent influenza vaccine will be offered to New Brunswickers age six months and older. High-Dose vaccine will be offered to residents aged 65 years and older living in long term care facilities. We anticipate that the province’s supply of influenza vaccine will be available in early October. I encourage you to contact your local pharmacy in the coming weeks to book an appointment to get the flu shot. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, I think it is the lesson that we are all in this together. Maritimers look out for each other, especially when times are tough. I encourage you now to look out for your neighbour by getting the flu shot this October!

Dr Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Sharp’s Corner Drugstore in Sussex, New Brunswick. 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.

 

 

Sussex pharmacist Kevin Duplisea dispenses information and advice on a wide range of pharmacy questions in a regular column published in several newspapers.

If you have a question you’d like to see answered in his column, you can send it to him at AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com