Annual Flu Shot

“Yes, it’s time again, it‘s time for your annual flu shot,” said a friend in an e-mail. So I made an appointment to see my family doctor and got my flu shot last week. And my family has been through the same process.

This annual ritual is very important. As a health care provider I get my flu shot free. The same privilege is granted to adults and children with serious health problems. People who live them also get free vaccination. Those who are 65 and over are vaccinated without any charge as well. And children six months to 23 months and their families are vaccinated free.

As you may know, there is a reason why these groups of people are vaccinated free of charge. They live or work in an environment where people are sick, are vulnerable to the flu virus and their capacity to fight the virus is not great. They need to be protected. So if you are in one of these four groups or if you know somebody who is in one of these four groups but hasn’t had a flu shot then encourage them to do so. You will be performing a big service.

It is very important to prevent influenza, which is a major cause of outpatient visits, antibiotic use, hospitalization and death, particularly among those older than 65.

Studies have shown that elderly people residing in nursing homes, influenza vaccination can be 50 to 60 per cent effective in preventing admission to hospital and preventing pneumonia and 80 per cent effective in preventing death. Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that both staff and residents of long-term care facilities be vaccinated against influenza.

Among healthy adults, such as the staff of long-term care facilities, vaccination may be 70 to 90 per cent effective in preventing influenza, and it reduces absenteeism from work. Furthermore, the studies say, vaccination of staff reduces the mortality rate among residents of long-term care facilities. No wonder annual influenza vaccination is recommended for both staff and residents of long-term care facilities.

More than 20,000 residents of Palliser Health Region were vaccinated last year. That is a good number but we have a population of around 100,000. What about the rest of the population? What sort of barriers do they face? Is cost of the vaccine a barrier?

In Canada, the publicly funded vaccination programs to prevent influenza are risk-based rather than based on universal immunization. Alberta, the richest province in Canada, should be able to fund universal vaccination programs for all Albertans. But the government’s priorities are some where else. Only Ontario and Yukon fund universal influenza vaccination programs. This allows physicians to recommend vaccination for all their patients. This is important because the effectiveness of influenza vaccine is strongest in healthy people, among whom cases of influenza are reduced by up to 70 per cent.

Studies have shown that the universal influenza immunization program in Ontario has been associated with higher coverage for people with high-risk chronic conditions than has occurred in other provinces. This suggests that universal immunization may increase vaccine delivery to high-risk groups. So universal immunization programs appear to be good for healthy individuals as well as for people with high-risk chronic conditions. A win-win situation. Hopefully, one day Albertans will be in the same win-win situation.

In the mean time, make sure you get your flu vaccine today! I have had mine. Make sure you have yours.

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