As the colder weather approaches, it’s time to roll up our sleeves.
Getting vaccinated against influenza (flu for short) is the best way to avoid illness and to protect the health of others — and it’s safe.
Each year, the seasonal flu causes approximately 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada.
The most vulnerable groups are seniors aged 75 years or older, pregnant women in their second or third trimester and anyone, of any age, who has a chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma. Getting the flu can worsen chronic conditions, as well as other immune-compromising illnesses such as cancer, lung and kidney disease.
We are now in the midst of the fourth wave of the coronavirus, making it even more important to protect yourself from the flu and help to prevent what's been called a "twindemic" (overlapping pandemics of both COVID-19 and influenza). In short, this is NOT the year to skip the flu shot. A heavy flu season could overwhelm our already strained health care system.
By getting vaccinated this season, you can keep hospital beds free for vulnerable Canadians who will need them.
Myth #1: Getting the flu shot will protect me against COVID-19.
Fact: The flu shot will not protect against COVID-19, but it will help lower your risk of getting the flu along with COVID-19 — something you want to avoid. Having both illnesses at the same time could put you at a higher risk for severe, even fatal, complications.
It’s likely you didn’t experience a cold or even the sniffles last year. That’s because the steps we took to slow the spread of COVID-19 also helped prevent the flu from spreading. In fact, washing our hands, wearing face masks, and physical distancing all help to contain most infectious diseases. Continuing to take these precautions year-round can lower our risk of contracting the virus, the flu and other transmittable illnesses.
Myth #2: The flu vaccine will give me the flu.
Fact: This is false. Flu shots do not contain live viruses and therefore can’t give you the flu.
Another reason to get the flu shot is that it will help you to determine whether symptoms that arise are related to the seasonal flu or COVID-19. If you’ve had the flu shot, the onset of a fever or dry cough could signal COVID-19, even if you have been vaccinated against the virus.
Note: Both are contagious respiratory illnesses and can cause fever, cough, body aches, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea (especially in children). However, shortness of breath and loss of smell or taste are more commonly associated with COVID-19.
When to get the flu shot
So, when and where should you get a flu shot? Let’s start with when. The short answer to that question is as soon as possible. It takes about two weeks for your body to create antibodies to fight the flu once you’ve received the vaccine. Flu season is generally well underway in Canada by November (peaking in January or February), so you’ll want your antibodies going at full strength by then.
Myth #3: The flu vaccine causes severe side effects.
Truth: After getting a flu shot, most people experience minor side effects, which are generally milder than flu symptoms and go away faster.
Where to get the flu shot
There are several places to get a flu shot. First check to see if your family doctor, local walk-in clinic or public health clinic has limits on the number of patients that they will see in person at one time (to prevent having too many people in the waiting room). It’s a good idea to call ahead first to confirm if they are offering vaccines this season and, if so, to schedule an appointment.
Your best bet may be your local pharmacy, where in normal years, approximately 35% of flu shots are given — a figure that rose substantially last year.
Myth #4: I got the flu vaccine last year, so I don’t need it this year.
Fact: Flu virus strains change constantly, so new vaccines are made to protect against the viruses that are prevalent that season. The vaccine you took last year may not work for this season’s flu, not to mention that your protection from the flu vaccine declines over time. Your best defence against the flu is to get vaccinated yearly.
What to do if you have the flu
If you do experience the flu, here are a few steps you can take for a speedy recovery, keeping in mind that most cases last seven to 10 days but can stretch out to two full weeks (and this depends on pre-existing health conditions).
What to do if you have questions
If you have questions about the flu shot, speak to a health professional. Don’t want to leave the house? You don’t have to. Maple, a leading virtual health care provider, can help you connect within minutes to licensed Canadian doctors for consultation and treatment — day or night — using your computer, tablet or mobile phone, from the comfort and safety of your home. Maple’s Online Doctors service is available through our Connected Care digital health platform, which members can access via our website or mobile app.
Curious about COVID-19 vaccinations? Get the facts.
Sources: Maple, Government of Canada, Centres for Disease Control and Protection, Immunize Canada, Ontario Public Health.