It’s Not Too Late For Your Flu Shot!
Flu season is upon us and if you haven’t already had your flu shot it’s time to think about getting one. We are in the midst of flu season in Canada and cases are continuing to increase. Peak activity will usually occur from mid-December until the end of January. While it is better to get your flu vaccine early so that you are protected for as much of the flu season as possible, it is definitely not too late to get your flu shot if you haven’t already done so.
What’s the big deal about the flu?
Infection with the flu can lead to complications such as pneumonia. Complications of the flu can be severe and potentially life threatening. People at higher risk of severe complications from the flu include:
- People 65 years of age and older
- Very young children
- Pregnant women
- People who have certain chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems.
Remember, when you get your flu shot you aren’t just protecting yourself – you’re also helping to protect the people around you, especially those who might be at higher risk of complications from the flu!
Keeping flu germs at bay
Getting yourflu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu and its complications. The vaccine is recommended for people 6 months of age and older. Other ways to prevent the spread of the flu include:
- Frequent handwashing
- Coughing and sneezing into your shirt sleeve rather than in your hand
- Staying home when you are sick
Your flu shot may be free
The flu vaccine is provided free to certain people including:
- People at high risk of serious illness from the flu
- People who are able to spread the flu to those at high risk of serious illness from the flu
- People who provide essential community services such as police officers and firefighters.
A complete list of vaccine eligibility can be found at the following link: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/inactivated-influenza-vaccine. You can receive the free flu vaccine from your family doctor, pharmacist, or at your local Public Health unit.
Influenza strains contained in 2019-2020 flu vaccines:
A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus (new this season)
A/Kansas/14/2017(H3N2)-like virus (new this season)
B/Colorado/06/2017 like virus (Victoria lineage)
B/Phuket/2013 like virus (Yamagata lineage)in quadrivalent vaccines only
Current flu activity in Canada
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s FluWatch Program, flu activity is continuing to increase across the country. So far in the current flu season the majority of cases have been caused by influenza A(H3N2), followed closely by influenza A(H1N1). Although most cases have been caused by influenza A, the proportion of influenza B is circulating has been at much higher levels than usual.
The largest proportion of influenza A(H3N2) has been seen in adults ≥65 years of age. There have been nearly equal proportions of influenza A(H1N1) in adults 20-24 years of age, 45-64 years of age, and ≥65 years of age. 59% of cases of influenza B have been seen in children and adults <20 years of age, and 30% between adults 20-44 years of age.
To date there have been 560 hospitalizations associated with the flu. The majority of hospitalizations have been among children <5 years of age, and adults ≥65 years of age. There have been 60 ICU admissions and 10 deaths.
For weekly reports of Influenza cases in Canada visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s FluWatch Program: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/flu-influenza/influenza-surveillance/weekly-influenza-reports.html
Is this season’s flu vaccine effective?
The Public Health Agency of Canada is expected to release information about this season’s flu vaccine effectiveness in February or March 2020.
Fluvaccines in BC
There are different types of flu vaccines available in BC including trivalent (contains 3 flu strains) and quadrivalent (contains 4 flu strains) inactivated vaccines, and high-dose trivalent inactivated vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose). The type that you receive generally depends on your age and vaccine availability.
FluMist quadrivalent is a live attenuated nasal spray flu vaccine that has been available in past years. FluMist is not available in Canada for the 2019-2020 flu season. All flu vaccines available for this season are given by injection.
What is the difference between trivalent and quadrivalent influenza vaccines?
Trivalent flu vaccines contain two A strains of the influenza virus (H3N2 and H1N1) and one B strain, so protect against 3 strains of the flu. Quadrivalent flu vaccines contain these strains as well as an extra B strain, so protect against 4 strains of the flu. The quadrivalent flu vaccine is the preferential vaccine for children 6 months to 17 years of age as this age group tends to have a higher burden of disease from influenza B.
Fluzone High-Dose vaccine
Fluzone High-Dose is an inactivated trivalent flu vaccine that contains 4 times the antigen content than the standard influenza vaccine formulation (antigens are the proteins contained in vaccines that cause an immune response). As people age there is a natural weakening of the immune system which causes older adults to become less responsive to the standard-dose influenza vaccine. Fluzone High-Dose has been shown to be more efficacious than the standard-dose vaccine in people over 65 years of age.
Fluzone High-Dose is recommended for people 65 years of age and older. Although Fluzone High-Dose is not offered for free as part of BC’s influenza vaccine program, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends High-Dose Fluzone over the standard-dose vaccine because it is expected to be more effective.
Flu shotside effects
A common misconception is that the flu vaccine can give you the flu. It is not possible for the inactivated flu vaccine to give you the flu. The vaccine contains killed influenza viruses that cannot cause infection.
Common reactions to the flu vaccine include:
- Redness, tenderness and soreness at the site of injection
- Muscle aches, tiredness or headache which are usually mild and last only 1-2 days.
Flu vaccines are currently available at pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and your local Public Health unit. We still have a few more months of the flu season to get through, so it’s not too late to get your flu shot!
TravelSafe Clinical Educator – Kristin Cain, RN, BSc, MSc(A)