Health authorities urging at-risk patients to get flu shot, as tough strain predicted this season

Tuccia Faustino, an 84-year-old Montrealer who has diabetes, has avoided getting the flu shot for 20 years. But Quebec's Health Ministry says it's time to rethink that.

Awareness campaign launches early, targets seniors, pregnant women, those living with chronic disease

At 84, Tuccia Faustino says he thanks God, his daily walks and strong alcohol for keeping the flu at bay. But Montreal Public Health is pleading with the most vulnerable to get the influenza vaccine as it predicts an aggressive strain. (CBC)

Tuccia Faustino doffs his baseball cap and makes the sign of the cross. 

At 84, he says he has a few things to thank for his health. 

"Thank you, God, so far," Faustino said a warm Tuesday afternoon outside his home in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, adding he also walks three to four hours a day. 

And his remedy for the flu? 

"Scotch, cognac, grappa."

He says he's avoided getting the flu shot for the past 20 years because he still got sick after getting it the last time.

But Faustino, who has diabetes, is exactly the kind of person Montreal Public Health wants to encourage to get the vaccine this season — instead of relying on home remedies — as it predicts an aggressive strain. 

"We want to reach the people who will benefit the most from the vaccine. Those people are the people who are suffering from chronic diseases," said Dr. Renée Paré, a medical officer for Montreal Public Health. 

Health authorities have been on alert after the flu hit Australia months earlier than usual. But Paré says manufacturers have a vaccine that's a close match to the strain going around this season. 

Montreal Public Health Medical Officer Dr. Renée Paré says Quebec's Health Ministry is prioritizing those most at risk of complications from the flu this year. (CBC)

Health Ministry focused on getting vaccine to most at-risk

The Quebec Health Ministry is launching an awareness campaign targeting those who are most vulnerable to complications, including people over 75 years old, pregnant women, people with diseases such as diabetes, immunity disorders, and heart, lung or kidney diseases. 

It says the flu shot clinics will begin in November, a month earlier than usual. 

Unlike last year, when the CAQ government made the vaccine free for everyone, patients outside the categories Public Health considers vulnerable will have to pay. 

Health Minister Danielle McCann says that's because the government had to prioritze the most vulnerable because of the flu's aggressivity. 

"What we have to do now is to get the people who are more at risk to get the vaccination," she told reporters at the National Assembly. 

Paré says it can be tough to rally people who live with chronic diseases, namely seniors who have diabetes, because it's something they live with and manage every day, so they may not see themselves as at risk.

"But any infection can affect your diabetes, so it's good to be protected," she said.

Paré said there are 450,000 doses of the flu shot for the island of Montreal. 

For those who cannot get the vaccine for free, Paré says it will be available at pharmacies for a reasonable price. 

The Health Ministry is also warning parents that there is no nasal spray available for children this year — only the injectable vaccine.


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