Flu season could be 'serious,' according to health officials

Despite concerns over the effectiveness of this year's flu vaccine, the deputy chief public health officer for Public Health Agency of Canada is still recommending people get the shots.

1 person with flu has died, though flu may not have been a major contributing factor

There have been 11 confirmed cases of the flu on P.E.I. (CBC)

There have been 11 confirmed cases of the flu on P.E.I. and all of them have been confirmed to be the strain H3N2.

One person has died, though the flu may not have been a major contributing factor in the death, according to the provincial Department of Health and Wellness.

Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer for the Public Health Agency of Canada says it could be a "potentially a serious flu season," though he cautioned it is too early to tell for sure.

Based on the historical trends, getting vaccinated every year is still your best protection to avoid getting the flu, regardless of the variation of the actual level of effectiveness from one year to the next.— Howard Njoo

Njoo says there are about 3,500 deaths and 12,000 hospitalizations associated with influenza each year in Canada, and the numbers may be on the rise this season.

"Early indications are … there may be more hospitalizations," he said.

"It's very important for those that are already vaccinated, to encourage, hopefully, family members and others to get vaccinated as well."

Efficacy questioned 

Njoo said each year's vaccine is based on what the World Health Organization predicts will be the prevalent flu strain in the Northern Hemisphere.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the majority of flu cases are attributed to the H3N2 strain, and this year's vaccine is not expected to be very effective against it.

"We're always trying to match up against the changes that occur in the flu strains," Njoo said.

"The H3N2 strain from one year to the next is not expected to be the same because we understand that the flu virus itself and the various strains continue to mutate and change over time."

Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer for the Public Health Agency of Canada, says even when the flu vaccine is less effective it is still better than no protection at all. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

Njoo said even though the effectiveness of the vaccine may not be as high as other years, he would still recommend people get it.

"The overall effectiveness of the influenza vaccine varies from year to year but certainly the position I take … is that the level of protection from the vaccine is certainly better than no protection at all," he said.

"Based on the historical trends, getting vaccinated every year is still your best protection to avoid getting the flu, regardless of the variation of the actual level of effectiveness from one year to the next."

High-dose vaccines

Njoo said there are certain groups that should always get flu shots because they are at a higher risk of getting the flu, and having serious problems associated with it.

He lists seniors and young children along with people who have medical conditions and those with immune system deficiencies.

Manitoba has begun a program using high-dose vaccines in nursing homes in the hopes that it will cut the number of flu cases.

"It's a good vaccine that I think is recommended primarily for seniors, those that might need to put an additional boost to the immune system to get a level of immunity against the influenza," Njoo said.

"Each province and territory I think will need to take a look at that and see what works best in their jurisdiction."

The high-dose flu shot is not available this year on P.E.I.

With files from Laura Chapin