By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter

B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer is encouraging everyone over six months old to get a flu shot, which she described as safe and effective.

“We all want to stay healthy during this coming season, more so than ever,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry. “This year in particular, we want everybody in the population to consider getting the influenza vaccine.”

Initially, symptoms of influenza can be similar to those of COVID-19 and getting immunized will help distinguish between the two.

“So that we’re not having to go get tested, trying to figure out what it is,” Henry said.

Getting a shot will also help reduce the burden on the healthcare system.

“Influenza can exacerbate some of those other conditions we have,” said Henry. “We know influenza makes younger people and older people and more severely ill and can lead to hospitalization.”

Last year, several strains of influenza circulated, including one that affected the very young and another that was particularly hard on older people, she said.

Flu campaign
Influenza season generally begins in Canada about October and peaks in December and January. Every year, the Province launches a fall flu campaign encouraging people to get immunized. This year there is added urgency, and an extra $374 million to cover enhanced public health measures and an expanded vaccine campaign.

“Our fall influenza campaign is going to be on a scale that we have not yet seen,” said Henry. The government ordered an extra 450,000 shots and will have more than 2 million vaccines for British Columbians during the 2020-21 influenza season.

Because people living in the Southern Hemisphere experience influenza before those in northern countries, their outcomes can often be an indicator of what’s to come for Canadians. This year, those in the south were the first to live through a combined season of COVID-19 and influenza. The results seem to indicate that stringent public health measures work.

“They had a relatively mild season,” said Henry. “Partly we think that’s because their immunization rates were very high and partly it’s because of the circulating strains that they received.”

In addition, public health measures that work for COVID-19 also help protect against other respiratory diseases like influenza, Henry said. “We need to continue doing the things that we’re doing,” she said. “Like washing our hands, covering our mouths, and staying home when we’re sick.”

Vaccines will be provided to physicians and pharmacists and will be available at public health clinics and a variety of healthcare settings.

On top of the 2 million regular flu vaccines, an additional 45,000 higher dose flu shots, called Fluzone-High Dose, will be available for residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities. Fluzone is specially formulated to protect people over 65 from influenza.

When asked if he intended to get a flu shot this year, Premier John Horgan was emphatic. “Absolutely. I have been getting a flu shot every year since I became a certain age,” he said.

Last year, Henry and Horgan got their shots together. “I don’t know if your dance card’s filled, Dr. Henry?” Horgan said, turning towards the Provincial Health Officer who was standing off-camera. “Maybe we’ll do it again.”

Presumably Henry didn’t shut him down.

Horgan continued. “I fully intend on not only getting an influenza vaccination, but encouraging as many people as possible to join me.”

Fran Yanor/ Local Journalism Initiative [email protected]