Nova Scotia

Flu shot extra important this year, N.S. health experts say

While the shot is usually made available around Thanksgiving, a Halifax pharmacist says people are already asking about it. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health says getting a shot this year could reduce strain on the health-care system.

'This year has been phenomenal for interest,' according to Halifax pharmacist

A 2013 file photo of a flu shot being prepared. (CBC)

With a global pandemic in full swing, Nova Scotia health experts say this year it's especially important for as many people as possible to get the flu shot.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said the flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, but he said getting it will reduce the impact on the health-care system.

"What's potentially going to be very complicated this winter when you get the flu season is trying to sort it out, because the symptoms of COVID and the symptoms of flu are very much the same," Strang said Wednesday.

Strang said Australia had to deal with COVID-19 and its flu season at the same time. He said Australia ended up having a very mild flu season because COVID-19 restrictions were in place.

"All the measures we have for maintaining physical distance, masking, etcetera — those will prevent the spread of influenza and other viruses," he said.

Strang said the province will have enough flu shots for half the population and he hopes to max out.

Halifax pharmacist Curtis Chafe said he's already been getting a lot of calls about the flu shot and when it will be available. The shot is usually available right after Thanksgiving, but Chafe points out an official release date hasn't been announced yet.

Halifax pharmacist Curtis Chafe is board chair of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia. (CBC)

"This year has been phenomenal for interest," Chafe said, board chair of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

Chafe said he thinks COVID-19 is driving the demand for the shot this year.

"I think people are more thoughtful around infectious disease right now. We look at COVID-19 and obviously we don't want to get that, we're doing the distancing, we're washing our hands," Chafe said.

"There's great interest in a COVID-19 vaccine and I think that's spilled over into interest in the influenza vaccine."

For anyone on the fence about getting a flu shot this year, Chafe said this year is critical.

"Getting the flu shot in 2020 is even more important. Obviously having the flu is not going to increase your risk for getting COVID-19, but it's also going to muddy the waters if you get some symptoms of influenza," Chafe said.

One of the key symptoms for both influenza and COVID-19 is a fever. He said someone with a fever calling 811 will likely be asked to get a COVID-19 test, so there's a potential for "extra strain on the system."

Chafe also said it's possible for someone to have a flu and COVID-19 co-infection.

"Obviously we haven't seen that yet," he said. "It theoretically can happen, in which case that's not an outcome anybody would like to have."

With files from Preston Mulligan