Get your flu shots early, says Sask. chief medical health officer

The ministry of health is encouraging people to get the vaccine early this year, especially people who at higher risk.

Flu vaccines to be available province-wide Oct. 23

The flu season has started and officials are urging people to get the vaccine. (Bert Savard/CBC)

The leaves have fallen, it's cooling down and soon your nose will be running: Flu season is here.

The universal influenza vaccination will be offered again this year, which means everyone in the province six months and older will be able to access free flu shots.

Starting Monday, the shots will be available at flu clinics at some pharmacies, and the offices of certain physicians and nurse practitioners. 

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said he recommends that people get their flu shots sooner rather than later.

"It's important to consider getting it early on, like last week of October, first two weeks of November. Get the flu vaccine before influenza starts transmitting," said Shahab. 

"The vaccine may not be 100 per cent effective in all people, but certainly even if it's 50 to 60 per cent effective it does reduce your risk of hospitalization."
Dr. Saqib Shahab urges people, especially those at high risk, to get their flu shots early this season. (CBC Saskatchewan)

    People over 65 years old, people with chronic health conditions, infants six months and older, as well as children under the age of five are all at greater risk of contracting the virus.

    In 2009 and 2010, one in two people were vaccinated during a flu pandemic, said Shahab. That's now down to about one in four people, even with the vaccines available in more places. 

    "While our overall numbers may not have gone up what we have heard is that there is improved access," said Shahab, adding that the ministry would like to see the number of people vaccinated rise.

    No nasal spray available

    Shahab said there were 300,000 vaccines administered last year, and the province has ordered 350,000 this year.

    For a second year in a row FluMist, a nasal spray vaccination, will not be offered.

    "Parents loved it, but there was some concerns about its effectiveness especially for ... the H1N1 strain," said Shahab.

    H3N2 is the particular strain the province will be looking out for, given how the southern hemisphere's flu season has gone. Still, it is hard to predict what strain in particular will be most present. 

    "Generally we see anywhere from 10 to 50 hospitalizations per year and around five to 15 deaths a year," said Shahab. "With H3N2 strains, we see more outbreaks in long-term care facilities."

    To find the closest location where flu shots are available go to the government of Saskatchewan's website