Flu immunizations 2018/19


December is upon us, and flu season is gearing up to full blast as we approach the end of the year.  Questions about flu vaccines often come up this time of year:  Is it too late to get a flu shot?  Is the flu shot effective this year?  Should I get a flu shot?  What other immunizations should I be receiving as an adult?  All of these are good questions a pharmacist can address.

Is it too late to get a flu shot?

Not at all!  Typically we see a rush for vaccinations at the beginning of October, or whenever public flu shots are available, but in fact, flu vaccines are readily available from the beginning of October to the end of April at most community pharmacies and doctor’s offices.  Peak flu season usually refers to the time of highest tracked flu activity, and typically occurs between November and January.  Because your body takes about 2 weeks to mount a sufficient response to vaccines, it’s best to get vaccinated as soon as vaccines are available, or before going to nursing homes, hospitals, or any places which are densely populated, especially with members of the most vulnerable population: the elderly and the young.

I’m healthy and will recover from any flu quickly.  Why should I get the flu shot?

While flu vaccines protect those who are vaccinated, they also protect anyone you come into contact with from contagion.  This, for healthcare workers and most people, is the main reason why flu vaccination makes sense – flu viruses have an incubation period of approximately 1-4 days, and many people become contagious approximately 1 day before symptoms appear[1] , making the likelihood of getting infected by your co-worker, or infecting your grandma while visiting at the nursing home, pretty high. So while you will probably recover quickly from the flu, those you infect may not.  While the actual death rate from influenza is unknown (we can only make an educated guess), we do know that it is responsible for the highest death rate of all infectious diseases in Canada, and that the vaccine is safe, with continuous monitoring throughout Canada[2].

Why should I get the flu vaccine if it doesn’t match the strains most of the time?

Flu vaccine strains are our best guess of what is to come.  Based on patterns and epidemiological studies conducted throughout the year, strains are chosen around the springtime for the next flu season.  Even if the strains don’t match what’s circulating, they may provide protection against other, different but related strains, therefore the flu vaccine is still the best protection one can get against influenza and its complications, and help reduce the risk to others you may come into contact with who are at high-risk of severe complications.

Is the flu vaccine a good match this year (2018/2019)?

Current data in Canada suggests so far this year that the main circulating strain is the A(H1N1)pdm09 strain[3], consistent with this season’s vaccine, and so far the data is indicating this year’s strains are affecting the younger age group more so than previous years, and pediatric hospitalizations are higher this year3 comparatively as well.  The 2 other strains contained in this year’s seasonal influenza vaccine include the A/Singapore/(H3N2)-like virus & the B/Colorado/06/2017-like virus – both these strains are new additions compared to last season’s.  Pediatric quadrivalent (4-strain) vaccines also include the B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus[4].

Who should get the flu shot?

Everyone should get the flu shot – young and old, regardless if you are doing for yourself or to protect others you may come into contact with.  Those who should make an extra effort to get vaccinated early for maximum protection include: the elderly and the very young and their caregivers and/or parents, pregnant women, anyone with immunocompromising conditions or taking medications that may suppress your immune system, health care workers and those who may come into close contact with those at high-risk for complications.  Remember: vaccination is not only the best chance you have of protecting yourself, but also those around you. Other things you can do to help prevent the spread of influenza include washing your hands frequently, coughing and sneezing into your arm/elbow instead of your hands, and staying home from work when sick.

Over the last few years, vaccines have developed quite a reputation, and vaccination has been a polarizing issue for the public.  It is important to be able to make decisions about your body and your health, and it’s even more important to have quality information to make an informed decision.  So as you are browsing the internet for information to make your next health decision, remember to always consider the source, and the evidence behind it.  For more information and FAQs, visit: https://immunizebc.ca/influenza

[1] Cdc.gov. (2018). Clinical Signs and Symptoms of Influenza | CDC. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/clinical.htm [Accessed 3 Dec. 2018].

[2] Canada P. Page 2: Canadian Immunization Guide: Part 2 – Vaccine Safety – Canada.ca [Internet]. Canada.ca. 2018 [cited 3 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-immunization-guide-part-2-vaccine-safety/page-2-vaccine-safety.html

[3] Canada P. FluWatch report: November 18, 2018 to November 24, 2018 (Week 47) – Canada.ca [Internet]. Canada.ca. 2018 [cited 4 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/fluwatch/2018-2019/week47-november-18-november-24-2018.html

[4] Seasonal Influenza Vaccine [Internet]. Bccdc.ca. 2018 [cited 7 December 2018]. Available from: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-professionals/clinical-resources/immunization/seasonal-influenza-vaccine


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