Nova Scotia

Easing pandemic restrictions likely to mean the return of seasonal flu

Although the last flu season never materialized because of measures taken against COVID-19, pharmacists in Nova Scotia say the easing of restrictions will mean the return of flu season.

Pharmacists are urging people to get the flu vaccine to prevent further strain on the health care system

In this 2015 photo taken through the eyepiece of a microscope, human cells infected with the flu virus glow green under light from a fluorescence microscope at a laboratory in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Measures put in place last year to contain COVID-19 had the added benefit of preventing a customary flu outbreak.

This year, with restrictions easing and Nova Scotia poised to enter the last phase of its reopening plan on Sept. 15, pharmacists are expecting the flu to make its return.

Pharmacist Graham MacKenzie, the owner of Stone's Pharmasave in Baddeck, N.S., said the measures taken last year created a difficult environment for the flu to take hold. But he said this year will be different. 

"We expect to see significantly more flu this year," he said. "I think people's memory might be a little short when it comes to the flu."

Pharmacist Graham MacKenzie is the owner of Stone's Pharmasave in Baddeck. (Graham MacKenzie)

MacKenzie said last year saw one of the biggest uptakes ever for flu shots. He attributes it to people just wanting "to do something" in the midst of the pandemic.

He said people were also mindful that having the flu would make COVID-19 even more of a threat, especially for people with compromised immune systems.

There may also be an added benefit to getting the flu shot, MacKenzie said, noting that a recent study found that having it reduced the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and the number of hospitalizations. 

That study by scientists at the University of Miami analyzed 74,754 patients and was published in a peer-reviewed journal on Aug. 3.

Pharmasave pharmacists have launched a public education program to raise awareness of the return of flu season and the importance of getting the flu shot. 

"We're trying to decrease the amount of ICU admissions that would really bog down our health system," MacKenzie said.

Diane Harpell is chair of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia. (PANS)

Diane Harpell, the chair of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia, said flu season and getting the flu shot this year will look similar to last year. 

Vaccine supplies are expected to arrive in pharmacies and physicians offices next month, Harpell said, and most pharmacies in the province will be offering flu shots. 

She said the vaccine is recommended for everyone ages six months and up.

Noting that some people were frustrated by vaccine supply delays last year, Harpell said no such problems are anticipated this year. 

Harpell is urging people planning to get the flu shot to be patient with their pharmacists, who have taken on a number of new responsibilities over the past year. 

"We've been prescribing, we've been injecting, we've been doing the majority of COVID vaccine ... folks have been working really hard."