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Home » Your Health » It’s never been more importan…

It’s never been more important to get the flu shot

By Dr. Brent Roussin
Published Monday, October 19, 2020

It has been more than six months since Manitoba's first case of COVID-19. During this time, much of our energy and effort have been focused on preventing the spread of the virus. Even now, as we continue our battle against COVID-19, there is another deadly virus making its way to Manitoba.

Each year, Manitoba experiences an epidemic of seasonal influenza along with an increase in other respiratory viruses that strains our health care system and causes increased disease and death. This fall and winter, both COVID-19 and influenza will be circulating in Manitoba at the same time.

With no approved vaccine for COVID-19, it makes it even more important than ever to get you and your family vaccinated against influenza (also known as the flu) this year.

Influenza can be a nasty respiratory virus. It can spread easily from one person to another by coughing or sneezing, or by touching your mouth, eyes or nose after touching objects contaminated with the virus. Getting a flu shot can help reduce the chances that you will get sick.

Last year, about 26 per cent of Manitobans received the flu vaccine, but we need to bring this number up. In 2019, there were more than 1,600 lab-confirmed cases of influenza. Close to 400 people were admitted to hospital, and 29 people died between October and March.

The flu vaccine is important to protect the health of people at increased risk of serious illness from the flu, their caregivers and close family and friends. It is the right thing to do.

Some people worry that getting a flu vaccination will increase their risk of getting the flu or COVID-19. However, there is no scientific evidence that getting a flu vaccination increases your risk of getting sick. In fact, it is the best way to protect yourself from getting the flu.  While getting a flu vaccine will not protect you from COVID-19, we encourage all Manitobans aged six months and older to get the seasonal flu vaccine to guard against influenza.

The flu virus changes every year. And each year, a new vaccine is created to help prevent the spread of influenza. Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization and death, and help to protect your health and the health of those around you. By reducing the number of hospitalizations, we can also reduce the strain on the health care system.

Manitoba has already started to receive its supply of flu vaccine for this season. With COVID-19 also circulating, we anticipate an increase in demand for the flu shot. This year, the Manitoba government increased the flu vaccine order by 20 per cent, and we will have enough vaccine to immunize 40 per cent of the population. We have also increased access to the high-dose flu vaccine, which is formulated for people age 65 years and older who meet the criteria.

The flu vaccine is available free of charge to all Manitobans. You can get the shot from a number of places - from your health care provider's office, a pharmacy or at a clinic in your community. Precautions are being taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and make it safe for people to come and get their shot.

While there is no approved vaccine for COVID-19, getting the flu shot is something we can all do to avoid spreading an infection that has the potential to cause serious illness to our loved ones and our community. For others, particularly health care workers, getting vaccinated offers the added benefit of providing some protection against a virus that could prevent them from going to work.

Remember that getting the vaccine is just one thing you can do to reduce your risk of influenza. Reduce the number of contacts you have, avoid closed-in or crowded spaces, as well as close contact with those outside your household.

Everyone also needs to continue to focus on the public health fundamentals to reduce their risk of getting the flu or COVID-19. People must stay home if sick, wash/sanitize their hands often, cover their cough and physically distance when they are with people outside their household. If you cannot physically distance, wear a mask.

For more information on the seasonal flu in Manitoba, visit: gov.mb.ca/health/flu/index.html. For more information on COVID-19 in Manitoba, visit: manitoba.ca/covid19.

Dr. Brent Roussin is Manitoba’s chief public health officer. This column was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Monday, October 19, 2020.

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