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Experts are urging Canadians to receive the flu shot ahead of what's expected to be a "very bad" season for influenza.
Canada Health estimates that flu season results in approximately 3,500 deaths and more than 12,000 hospitalizations each year.
Despite Canada's national immunization strategy including a coverage goal of 80 per cent each year, only 42 per cent of adults received the flu shot during the 2019/2020 flu season. By c
Canada’s National Immunization Strategy includes a vaccination coverage goal of 80 per cent for the seasonal influenza vaccine for 2016-2021, based on the need to protect individuals, who may be at greater risk of influenza-related complications, such as admission to hospital.
According to Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical biologist, there is a "great importance" for Canadians to receive the flu shot, especially during COVID-19.
“A lot of mathematical models that take into account population immunity suggests that this could be a very bad influenza season,” says Papenburg. “For the past 15 months, there has been practically no influenza that has circulated in Canada.”
Papenburg says that because people have not experienced recent infections, their immune systems haven't been boosted naturally. The lack of exposure to infection, combined with the low number of Canadians who've received the flu shot is cause for concern.
“We know that influenza vaccination, in high risk populations, such as the elderly or persons with chronic co-morbidities that put them at risk for complications of influenza, can prevent hospitalizations, and even mortality,” he says.
Papenburg says receiving the flu shot is crucial, especially as Canada continues to navigate the fourth wave of COVID-19, which has put a strain on hospitals in certain parts of the country. According to Papenburg, “a twin epidemic of influenza and COVID-19 at the same time” is worth avoiding, given its potential to overwhelm the healthcare system as a whole.
In order to protect the most vulnerable, eligible Canadians should prioritize their own vaccinations for both COVID-19 and influenza.
In a recent statement, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) announced that it's safe for Canadians to receive both the influenza and COVID vaccines at the same time.
"Receiving your routine vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines in a timely manner is always important," said Teresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer. "Being able to give the COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as, or within days of, other vaccines will make it easier for Canadians to get their vaccines at the right time, especially as we get closer to influenza season and the rollout of the 2021 influenza vaccine program. This will also make it easier to catch up on other routine vaccines that might have been delayed due to the pandemic.”
Papenburg hopes that Canadians will take advantage of new vaccine rollouts to receive both the COVID and influenza vaccine.
“I cannot overemphasize the importance of vaccination, especially in high risk groups,” says Papenburg.
In addition to vaccines, Papenburg recommends that Canadians continue with all the measures that have been put in place to fight the pandemic, such as frequent hand washing, not leaving the house if you are feeling sick, and wearing masks, especially when indoors where social distancing measures cannot be maintained.