Manitoba

Only 19 per cent of Manitobans vaccinated against flu but it's not too late

Doctors are urging Manitobans to get the flu shot amid concerns that the vaccine isn’t as effective as it’s been in past years.

'It's the best defence': Doctors say get your shot as flu spikes in Manitoba

As Manitoba sees a spike in numbers of people falling ill with the flu, doctors urge it's still worth it to get vaccinated

Doctors are urging Manitobans to get the flu shot amid concerns that the vaccine isn't as effective as it's been in past years.

In the past two weeks, Manitoba has seen a spike in people getting sick with the flu — in particular, a strain of Influenza A (H3) similar to what walloped Australia and Hong Kong in 2017.

"Over the last two weeks we've seen a real steep increase, predominantly H3N2, some H1, some influenza B, but you know, predominantly that (H3N2),"said Dr. Richard Rusk, medical health officer for Manitoba Health.

He's watching the province's data closely. To date, there are over 200 lab-confirmed cases of flu in the province, most of which are Influenza A.

That figure only represents the relatively small number of people chosen for testing, he explained, but it still provides a valuable snapshot of the bigger picture.

"Over the last two weeks we've had this real spike, we've doubled our numbers in the last week, so that's very typical," he said.

The flu season, which generally lasts six to eight weeks, also generally sees a three- to four-week spike before dropping off, Rusk said.

"We're only at 19 per cent of the population that's vaccinated, so there's always that concern, is that going to now grumble on for a little bit longer?" he asked.

Already, nine people have died from influenza this season in Manitoba, according to Manitoba Health, compared to 12 people in total last year.

Vaccine not most effective against H3 strain

The vaccine was created after the H3 virus hit the Southern Hemisphere earlier this year, according to Rusk, then shifted.

"The vaccine that was developed is not the most effective against the circulating H3 strain. There's been a 10 percent efficacy [against H3], which is obviously lower than what we would want," said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the Toronto General Hospital.

Dr. Richard Rusk, Medical Officer of Health for the province, wants people to get their flu vaccinations to promote herd immunity and keep flu season short

"The thing about flu is that it's predictably unpredictable. And the strains can mutate along the way and some years the vaccine is more protective than other years," he said.

But that's no reason not to get vaccinated, Bogoch and Rusk agreed. In fact, they say vaccinations remain the best form of defence against infection.

In Manitoba, the vaccines are publicly funded and available at clinics and pharmacies across the province.

"The benefits of having the vaccine, and having the vaccine whether it's a perfect match or not, still outweighs any risks or aversions that people may have to actually getting the vaccine," said Rusk.

He said with the vaccine, even if you get sick, it won't likely be as severe, and the vaccine is also effective against other forms of influenza like H1 and Influenza B.

When large groups of people get immunized, the result is a herd immunity that helps prevent the spread of disease, he added.

"A, it still offers some protection against the predominant strain and, B, it offers very good protection against the other two circulating strains of influenza and, C, it's still just the best protection we have, those are good reasons to get it," said Bogoch.

While the emergency room isn't always going to be the best place for people to go if they get sick, Rusk said if you fall ill with flu, it's still worth a trip to your health-care provider.

"Now that we know it's widespread, it's really useful for health care providers to give that antiviral. We know that it does reduce the length of the illness as well as the symptoms," he said.

About the Author

Erin Brohman

Reporter

Erin Brohman is an RN who specialized in pediatrics before entering what she thought would be a year-long foray into journalism. After graduating from the University of King's College in Halifax, she took off to Yellowknife to work for CBC North for nearly two years, then settled in Winnipeg. At CBC Manitoba she blends her interests in health care and sharing people's stories. Story tip? Email erin.brohman@cbc.ca.