Flu shot still worth the protection despite last year's failure, doctor says

Last year’s flu vaccine may have been a flop, but that’s no reason to skip it this year, a prominent Montreal paediatrician says.

Everyone should get the vaccine, if only to protect vulnerable people around them

The Montreal areas's flu vaccine campaign starts on Nov. 1. (Valentin Flauraud/Reuters)

Last year's flu vaccine may have been a flop, but that's no reason to skip it this year, a prominent Montreal pediatrician says.

In fact, the flu shot still has a winning track record in the long term.

"If you look at every 10-year period, the results of the vaccine are positive in eight out of 10 years," Dr. John Yaremko of the Montreal Children's Hospital told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

The 2014 shot didn't provide most Canadians with more immunity to the dominant flu strain, which cast doubts on the vaccine's effectiveness — and an informal street survey by CBC Montreal showed that many don't think it's worth the trouble.

How the flu shot is planned out

Manufacturers who make the vaccine have to predict which flu strain will be dominant six months ahead of time. And they look to the southern hemisphere for clues.

"They predict what will happen in Canada based on what happened in Australia," Yaremko said.

But the flu virus is highly adaptable and can mutate in a short time.

"When it sees that it's not going to be successful because people have antibodies, it will mutate and will be unpredictable," Yaremko added.

The nasal spray is an alternative to the needle, but it's recommended for children. (CBC File Photo)

Last month in British Columbia there were three outbreaks are retirement homes, and the current vaccines matched the virus by only 30 to 50 per cent.

"That doesn't mean it will be the same here. As the flu crosses the country, it may change, but 50 per cent is better than nothing," he added.

Still worth the protection

Ten to 20 per cent of people will get the flu each year, and will be out of commission for five to ten days. These include healthy individuals, Yaremko said.

But there are those who are more vulnerable -- babies, seniors, pregnant women, and people suffering from chronic diseases. For them, the flu can lead to complications like pneumonia, heart problems, even death.

"We must be responsible to protect these people at risk, and also responsible to yourself," Yaremko cautioned.

Those wishing to avoid the needle may opt to the nasal spray vaccine. However, it's shown to be more effective on the pediatric population — those 17 and under, Yaremko said.

And since it's a live vaccine, pregnant women and people who are already ill must not take it.

How to get a flu shot

When: Vaccinations start on Nov. 1 in Montreal.

Where: Varies from region to region. Some CLSCs offer drop-in shots. Check the website of your local CISSS or CIUSSS for details. Alternately, you can schedule an appointment at participating clinics through clicsante.ca.

How much: The shot is free for children under 2, pregnant women, people over 60, and people with some chronic diseases. For others, it usually costs between $10 and $20.

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