Nova Scotians can breathe a sigh of relief knowing this upcoming flu season won’t be as brutal as last year’s, but that doesn’t mean you should skip your flu shot.
Curtis Chafe, a pharmacist and owner of the Fenwick Street Shoppers Drug Mart in Halifax, says residents should still get their vaccine this season to protect themselves and others from the flu. The prediction made by health officials is that this year’s vaccine is also going to be more accurate than last year’s and, ultimately, more effective for the strains of influenza that will make their way across Canada.
“Every person is kind of a conduit to the next person — even if the vaccine isn’t as effective as we had hoped, but this year it’s going to be much better — that’s what we are hearing,” says Chafe.
He says the message is getting out that even if you aren’t worried about the flu, other people in your life may be at risk to complications from the flu.
The very young and the elderly are especially vulnerable to possible life-threatening effects from the flu or possible secondary infections, so the more people who are vaccinated, the less chance there is for the virus to spread. He says flu vaccination has increased each year for the past two years in this region.
“Last year, pharmacies did 25 per cent more shots than they did the year before and this year, both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are trucking 25 or 30 per cent more than they were last year,” he says.
Many pharmacies in Nova Scotia have been offering flu shots free of charge to residents for the last seven years, says Chafe, making it easier for people to get the vaccine. Pharmacies can now also offer a high-dose flu shot for seniors, ensuring the most effective protection.
“It’s four times as concentrated — it’s the same volume, but like getting four vaccines in one. Currently, they are only covered provincially if you are a senior in a long-term care facility. They are available to the public and they are recommended for anyone 65 years of age and older.”
The high-dose vaccine is covered by some private health insurance plans and costs about $80 per shot, depending on the pharmacy.
Chafe explains that although there are myths circulating that the flu shot can make you sick, it’s entirely impossible. The vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, which is used to jump-start your immune system into recognizing the virus and help it begin to form antibodies to defend itself.
“There is no intact virus at all, just pieces of it all chopped up attached to a few things to help your immune system find it and develop an immune response,” says Chafe.
“Some people say they are getting sick, but they are getting sick with something else. The flu is not the only thing going around in the wintertime. We get a lot of other things.”
He adds that if you feel off a few days after the vaccination, it’s perfectly normal.
“If it’s a few days after they get the shot and they are feeling unwell, that’s just an immune response to the vaccine that is recognizing it and mounting the antibodies. That’s not a bad thing. To feel somewhat a little icky for a day or two, it means your body is receptive to the vaccine.”
If you come down with the flu this season, Chafe says the age-old remedies of fluids, rest and acetaminophen are your best bet. He also says to expect to be home for four to five days before you are feeling well enough to work or take part in other activities.
If you don’t have a chance to get the vaccine before winter, Chafe says it’s never too late, especially if you are heading down south for a break from the cold weather.
“Influenza is year-round in the Caribbean and you don’t want to spend all this money on your vacation and then feel lousy after a few days there.”
Flu shots are available at pharmacies across the province for free and walk-in patients are often welcome.