Influenza is a serious condition that can be prevented with a flu vaccine.

Pow wow dancers in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Pow wow dancers in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

There is no doubt flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu.

Seasonal influenza is the annual influenza that affects people in Canada during the winter, typically between November and April. While you can get influenza at any time, even in summer, it is most common in the colder months.

In Alberta, in 2020-2021, there were zero confirmed flu cases due in large part to the COVID-19 public health measures in place, but many of those measures have since been relaxed. And Alberta has had few cases of flu already.

So far this year, there have been four lab-confirmed influenza cases – three in the Edmonton Zone and one in the Calgary Zone. By the time you read this there may be more cases. As we continue to fight COVID-19, it is safe to have both vaccines (COVID-19 and flu vaccine) at the same time.

Albertans are encouraged to get a flu shot. By keeping flu counts low we can make sure our health-care system has capacity to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and let health-care workers focus on treating people with other illnesses and injuries, says Alberta Health.

All Albertans, six months of age and older, are eligible to be immunized with flu vaccine. There is no charge. It is not difficult to get immunized. Children under five years of age must be immunized at an AHS clinic or participating doctor’s office. All other Albertans can get immunized at participating pharmacies and doctor’s offices.

Vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year but immunization is still the best protection. The effectiveness of the current vaccine is not known when the immunization program begins but is determined as the season progresses.

It is important to get the influenza vaccine every year because the virus changes each year. COVID-19 and influenza have similar symptoms, so getting a flu shot could reduce the likelihood of someone having symptoms that may cause them to have to stay home or get tested for COVID-19.

We know flu shots are not one hundred per cent effective because the virus mutates. Over the years the average effectiveness has been around 43 per cent. That means people who got the flu vaccine over those years were on average 43 per cent less likely to get sick enough with the flu to go to their doctor and get tested.

Although flu shots are not one hundred per cent effective it is still important to get a shot. The flu shot offers protection against the flu for about six months. A person should get a flu shot every year, and the best time to get one is the end of October.

Scientists have been working very hard to come up with the best effective vaccine each year. Starting in the 1930s, it took decades of research to understand the complexities of the influenza virus, and it wasn’t until 1945 that the first vaccine was approved for use in the US.

The health burden caused by seasonal influenza is substantial. It can seriously affect individuals with heart disease, lung disease and type-2 diabetes. Children and elderly are very susceptible.

COVID-19 mitigation measures such as wearing face masks, staying home, hand washing, school closures, reduced travel, increased ventilation of indoor spaces, and physical distancing, likely contributed to the decline in 2020-2021 flu incidence, hospitalizations and deaths. We should continue to follow these measures.

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