Nfld. & Labrador

We immunize our children, but why do so few of us get the flu shot?

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health says the province does poorly when it comes to the number of people getting the influenza vaccine.

N.L. ranks well behind other areas in Canada for people getting immunized

Dr. Claudia Sarbu, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, says the best way to prevent influenza is by getting the flu shot. (Paula Gale/CBC)

With the flu season expected to be right around the corner and free flu vaccination clinics now open across the province, the chief medical officer of health is calling on more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to get vaccinated this year.

Dr. Claudia Sarbu said the province leads the country in getting children immunized for preventable diseases, with over 95 per cent of kids getting vaccinated.

But when it comes to the number of people who get immunized for influenza, people don't do so well. She said many areas of the country have 40 to 45 per cent of people getting the shot, while last year, just 22 per cent got it in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It's the best way to prevent the flu disease.- Dr. Claudia Sarbu

With many people's busy lives, Sarbu said, it's easy to put off getting a flu shot, but it's important to find the time to get the vaccine.

"It's easy to say tomorrow, tomorrow tomorrow until we end up not getting the flu shot," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"We have to take the flu shot every year, and people may get tired, and nobody likes injections, or people don't really understand how important it is to get the flu shot, [but] it's the best way to prevent the flu disease. It's a serious disease, it's a deadly disease," she said. 

This year's flu shot will protect against four strains of influenza. (Tony Talbot/AP)

Sarbu said while a good number of seniors get the shot, she would also like to see more children and those with long-term illnesses protect themselves against influenza.

"Because in our province we have a lot of chronic disease, like respiratory chronic conditions and cardiac conditions, we would like to encourage those people to get their flu shots to avoid complications in the season." 

The time is now 

That's why Sarbu said now's the best time to get the influenza vaccine.

She said flu season doesn't officially begin until emergency rooms and doctor's offices notice two straight weeks with increasing numbers of people presenting with influenza-like symptoms. But it's difficult to know when that will be.

"The flu season timing and severity, it's totally unpredictable," Sarbu said. 

"But we get prepared for the flu season by offering the flu clinics."

More clinics

Sarbu said all four of the province's health authorities have increased the number of clinics offering the flu vaccine this year, and Eastern Health is working to extend clinic hours to accommodate parents and working people. 

She said flu shots are also available at a doctor's office during any other appointment or at a pharmacy, although there may be a cost at pharmacy for those not covered under insurance. 

Influenza can cause headaches, sensitivity to light, aches and pains, and an extremely high fever that can last for as much as a week, and because it can take two weeks to build immunity, Sarbu said it's better to get immunized sooner rather than later. 

For more information on scheduled clinic locations, people can visit the website of their regional health authority or call 811.

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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