Another important vaccine choice: get the flu shot
By Dr. Bunmi Fatoye
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, October 25, 2021
By now, we all recognize the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. By doing so, we've not only helped protect ourselves and others but have helped reduce the significant strain the pandemic has placed on our healthcare system.
Now, there's another way you can help: by getting your flu shot.
Influenza (flu) season is an annual occurrence, usually starting at this time of the year. Influenza is a respiratory tract infection. It is spread through droplets when infected people cough or sneeze or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Though most people recover from influenza, the complications can be life-threatening, resulting in hospitalization and death.
Protecting yourself and others from the flu during the COVID-19 pandemic calls for your attention. The pandemic has affected us all either directly or indirectly. It's resulted in more than 1,200 deaths in Manitoba, kept us from visiting loved ones under care in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and created a backlog in surgeries and other medical interventions. Adding the extra burden of a bad flu year can only make the situation worse.
Simultaneous circulation of the flu and COVID-19 virus is both a concern and an opportunity. It is a concern when we think of the devasting impact on hospitalization and death. The opportunities lie in three key factors that enhance our ability to minimize the spread of the influenza virus:
- Most of us are familiar with flu symptoms, and we can quickly identify our illness.
- We are now well-practiced in physical distancing, staying home when sick, wearing a mask, and practicing hand hygiene. These preventive measures reduce the spread of both viruses.
- There is a vaccine.
The influenza vaccine is safe. It is our best shot at reducing the impact of influenza infection on ourselves, our loved ones, and the health care system. And yes, for those of you who may be wondering, it is safe to receive both influenza and COVID-19 vaccine, even at the same time. There is no need to delay. Except for those with contraindications to the vaccine, everyone over the age of six months is eligible. Talk to your primary care provider if you have questions.
The fact that there was no major flu outbreak last year was an incredible stroke of good fortune. Some of the reasons include physical distancing, mask use, and the increased focus on hand hygiene during the pandemic. However, there are no guarantees that the flu won't strike back with a vengeance this year. We have to prepare.
By getting your flu shot, you are decreasing your risk of becoming infected, reducing the risk of spreading it to others, and reducing the severity of the illness if you do get sick.
Let's talk briefly about other things you can do:
- First, be familiar with the symptoms of influenza so you can take measures such as staying home, seeking your health care provider, and going for tests. Common flu symptoms include fever (although not in all cases), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
- Continue to practice the fundamentals: maintaining physical distancing, wearing a mask in public, hand hygiene measures, and coughing into your elbow.
Manitobans have risen to the challenge when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine uptake. We have seen numbers that we have not seen before. I call on you to respond in the same way.
Get the shot and not the flu!
Access to vaccines has been made easy with multiple ways and providers within the region. Talk to your health care provider, doctor, pharmacist, or local public health provider to learn more about where and how you can receive the flu shot this year. Information is also available on the website at wrha.mb.ca/flu/.
Dr. Bunmi Fatoye is a Medical Officer of Health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.