Island Health rolls out flu shots; vaccinations can be booked online

The next several weeks is the optimal time to get an influenza vaccine, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday, as Island Health kicks off a campaign with a new online sign-up for vaccinations through public health units. “The best time to do it is end of October and into November, and that’s where we get the maximum protection through influenza season,” said Henry.

“So if it takes a week or two for you to get an appointment with your pharmacist, or your physician, or at your public health clinic [that’s OK],” said Henry.

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Influenza is an infection of the upper airway and is spread person to person through coughing, sneezing or face-to-face contact. Symptoms often require bed rest and last seven to 10 days, though fatigue can last for weeks. Sometimes it’s more serious — 294 influenza patients diagnosed between Sept. 1, 2019, and March 30, 2020, were admitted to an Island Health acute care facility.

In the Northern Hemisphere the season usually starts now and in November and peaks in December and January.

Island Health has not had a lab-confirmed case in the last three months.

The health authority has received most of its order of 325,000 doses of flu vaccine from a provincial order of about two million, said Island Health medical health officer Dr. Dee Hoyano. That’s up 60,000 doses from last year and more can be ordered, she said.

Influenza rates so far are “very low in our community” meaning we’re not yet into that season “so we have time to make sure that everybody who wants it can be immunized in the next few weeks,” Henry said.

Island Health’s 325,000 doses include 305,500 doses of the injectable vaccine, 10,000 doses of nasal spray FluMist for those age 2 to 17, and 9,500 units of high-dose Fluzone for seniors at particular risk of influenza.

The nasal mist is not recommended for children under age two; infants six months to two years receive the vaccine via a needle. Fluzone is for people 65 and older and has four times the antigen of a standard vaccine for a stronger immune response.

Vaccination is particularly advised for those 65 or older, children under the age of five, pregnant women and people with suppressed immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions such as heart and lung disease or diabetes.

The publicly funded criteria for those eligible for a free shot is quite broad, said Hoyano. “There’s really very few people who won’t qualify for publicly funded vaccines.”

That criteria includes those 65 and older, those with chronic health conditions, health-care workers, kids under five, pregnant women and anyone who works or lives with or is able to transmit influenza to small children or the elderly. For others, a flu shot typically costs in the $20-to-$30 range.

Appointments for vaccinations can be scheduled by calling physician offices, public health units and pharmacies. People can also book flu shots at public health units by going to the health authority’s online Island-wide booking site being unveiled today: islandfluclinics.ca.

There might be fewer flu cases this year because of pandemic precautions, such as hand washing and physical distancing.

Henry said the recent flu season in the Southern Hemisphere has been relatively mild, possibly as a result of increased vaccinations.

She reminded people to be kind to one another and remain calm and understand “this part of the storm can be challenging for many and we have to do our own bit to be safe.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

For more information

- To book an appointment online, go to islandfluclinics.ca

- For pharmacists and primary care providers with vaccine in stock, see islandfluclinics.ca/community

- To find pharmacies and flu clinics in your area, go to immunizebc.ca

- For more information on the flu, go to immunizebc.ca or healthlinkbc.ca or bccdc.ca

- Before receiving your flu shot, check for COVID-19 symptoms at bc.thrive.health

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