British Columbia

Vancouver Coastal Health starts its flu shot campaign

With flu season on the way, Vancouver Coastal Health is encouraging everyone to get immunized. Flu vaccinations are available at doctor’s offices, walk-in clinics, pharmacies, Vancouver Coastal Health flu clinics and the VCH Travel Clinic.

'It’s the leading cause of death by a vaccine-preventable illness,' says medical health officer

Free flu shot clinics start this weekend in Ottawa. (Tony Talbot/AP)

Meena Dawar has been getting a flu shot every year for the past 15 years. 

"It's very important to me to get the flu shot, because I know it works. I want to be healthy for myself, for my family, as well as for the people I work with," said Dawar, who is a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).

Influenza vaccinations have already begun and are available at doctor's offices, walk-in clinics, pharmacies, VCH flu clinics and their travel clinic.

VCH says current flu activity in B.C. is hovering around expected levels for this time of year, and the most prominent strain is influenza A (H3N2 variant),which is notorious for causing severe illness, especially in seniors.

Dawar says it's too early to predict how bad this season will be, but health officials on Vancouver Island have already seen cases of H3N2 pop up and are preparing for a fairly severe year. 

Who should get immunized?

Every year in Canada, nearly 3,500 people die due to complications from flu and pneumonia, the majority of whom are seniors, according to Vancouver Coastal Health, which recommends everyone get the flu shot. 

"We're all at risk of getting influenza, and influenza is not a mild cold illness. It's a fairly severe respiratory viral illness. It feels like we've been run down by a truck. We can be bedridden for a number of days," said Dewar.

Flu shots are free in B.C. to children aged six months to five years, those 65 years and older, pregnant women, Aboriginal persons and people with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions. 

"For healthy people, having the flu means a few days of feeling miserable, but for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, it can lead to a severe illness involving a hospital stay or even death," said Dawar.

"The flu shot is the best way to not only protect yourself, but also the higher-risk people around you."

The provincial government is funding five different influenza vaccine products, according to VCH. (Cory Correia/CBC News)

Children between two and 17 are eligible for FluMist, the nasal spray version of the vaccine, instead of the standard injection by needle. 

The vaccine is also free to anyone who lives or works with someone who is at high risk to catch the flu. 

How effective is the vaccine?

There are five different influenza vaccine products that are funded by the government this season, including the children's nasal spray which protects against four strains of the virus and adult vaccines, which protect against three strains. 

Dawar says while the vaccines are safe and the best protection against the flu, they are generally only 40 to 60 percent protective, so there's still the potential to get sick. 

"It protects against hospitalizations. It protects against deaths, and for individuals who get ill with influenza, they may have minor symptoms as well," said Dawar.

She said it's difficult to provide full protection because the strains and vaccines are different every season. 

Vancouver Coastal Health says it takes about two weeks for the flu shot to start working, so it wants people to get the shot early before peak flu season hits around Dec. 1. 

Information on flu clinics in your community is available at ImmunizeBC.ca.

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