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Should You Get The Flu Shot This Year?

Grandparents walking in a field with their grandson
Grandparents walking in a field with their grandson

John Papastergiou

Pharmacist, Owner, Shoppers Drug Mart

Dr. Ian Gemmill

Associate Professor – Departments of Community Health, Epidemiology and Family Medicine, Queen’s University

Cold and flu season is fast approaching, and it’s time to take action. Every year, an estimated 10%–25% of the population gets the flu, according to Health Canada, which can mean not being able to work and keep up with normal day-to-day activities for days or even weeks, if complications develop.

The average healthy adult can recover from the flu in just a few days. But some vulnerable segments of the population — including pregnant women, children under the age of five, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions — are at risk of developing serious complications. Shockingly, the flu is the eighth leading cause of death in Canada. This makes it all the more vital that you protect not only yourself, but also those around you.

Why you shouldn’t delay getting a flu shot

Pharmacists, doctors, and health care professionals strongly recommend getting a flu shot annually. Flu vaccinations typically become available in late September or early October — well in advance of when the flu outbreaks begin to strike in December and January. After receiving the flu shot, your body gets busy producing antibodies that will help ward off future infections.
“It’s a case of getting the flu shot before you need it,” says Dr. Ian Gemmill, a physician based in Kingston, ON and former chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. “The earlier you can get the vaccine, the better, to get maximum protection.”

Despite the flu shot’s ability to help your body ward off infection, some Canadians are still resistant to the idea. “Flu shots are the best defence we have,” says Dr. Gemmill, but adds, “I hear many different reasons from people about why they choose not to get them. If people get the vaccine and then still get the flu, they assume it doesn’t work. The truth is, they’ll get a much milder case because they were immunized. Some people think getting a flu shot gives them the flu. That’s not true, but there are those who might experience some mild flu-like symptoms for a day or so.”

“It’s the easiest thing you can do to improve public health,” says John Papastergiou, a community pharmacist-owner and an Assistant Professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. “If you’re not vaccinated, you don’t know who you might contaminate or endanger.”

The power of herd immunity and what it means

To prevent outbreaks, all Canadians ages six months and up need to get a flu shot. The idea of everyone getting vaccinated for the benefit of the broader public health is referred to as herd immunity. It’s the key principle behind offering flu shots across the country to all eligible Canadians.

Herd immunity works. Papastergiou points to the success of eradicating other diseases like polio, measles, and mumps. “When people stop getting vaccinations, that’s when diseases reappear. It’s a straightforward idea: the more people who get a flu vaccination, the more outbreaks can be stopped.”

By getting your flu shot at a pharmacy, you can be assured that you’ll get the right advice from experienced, knowledgeable health care professionals. “Before receiving the flu shot, our staff asks the customer a series of questions to make sure that there are no contraindications based on their health and any medications they take,” says Papastergiou.

Getting the flu shot is easy. In most provinces, simply go to your local pharmacy with a valid health card in hand and the pharmacist will provide the service. In Québec, where a nurse has to be involved, you can book your flu shot appointment online at pharmaprix.ca/services or by phone to suit your schedule. With many pharmacies offering extended hours, like Shoppers Drug Mart in most provinces and Pharmaprix in Quebec, fitting in a quick visit is easier than ever.

Papastergiou echoes the words of Dr. Gemmill: “It’s never too late to get your flu shot, but do it early in the season if you can. Why take the risk? Protect yourself and those around you by getting the flu shot. It’s part of being a good citizen.”

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