Ask Your Pharmacist

November 04, 2021
Q:

Should I get a flu shot this year since New Brunswick experienced virtually no cases of influenza last year?

A:

The short answer is yes. In fact, this fall - in the midst of this fourth wave of the COVID pandemic that is having such a devastating impact on our province - it’s never been more important for New Brunswickers to get their flu shots. Getting a flu shot is one of the most important steps a person can take to keep healthy during flu season, especially those in high-risk groups such as seniors and those with chronic illnesses. It’s also one of the most important steps you can take to help reduce the strain on our already-stressed health care system and COVID testing centers.

In a typical flu season, New Brunswick experiences thousands of flu cases, hundreds of hospitalizations, and dozens of deaths. Last year, with a significant increase in flu vaccinations and with the implementation of public restrictions to slow the spread of COVID, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), physical distancing, and limiting contact with others - we experienced virtually no flu cases or flu-related hospitalizations, or deaths. We have to remain vigilant again this year to help prevent the spread of the flu.

 

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 that year, with 43 requiring an intensive care unit admission. Eleven New Brunswickers died from influenza during the 2019-2020 flu season.

 

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. 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.

Flu shots are available free of charge to New Brunswickers ages two and older as part of the province’s Universal Flu Vaccination Program. This year, people 65 and over qualify to get a different, high-dose version of the flu vaccine. Ask your pharmacist about this option. Since the flu vaccinations got underway on October 12, New Brunswick pharmacy teams have administered about 60,000 flu shots. That’s in addition to the COVID vaccinations they are also administering. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated against COVID, you can get both the flu shot and a COVID vaccine at the same time.

 

Flu vaccine is available at most pharmacies. The sooner you get your shot, the better, as it takes about two weeks to develop an immune response to the vaccine. Pharmacy teams are extremely busy with their regular duties in addition to administering vaccines so I urge you to book an appointment in advance for your flu shot and wear loose clothing or short sleeves to make it easier for pharmacists to give you the shot. Please self-screen for COVID symptoms and do not go to the pharmacy if you are sick or have any symptoms.

 

In effect, we had no flu season in New Brunswick last year, which tells us we can do this again if we are vigilant. I hope New Brunswickers will take pride in the fact that by getting a flu shot, they are doing their part to keep themselves, their loved ones, and their communities as healthy as possible while we all continue to battle this pandemic.

 

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.