Alberta Health Services and the provincial government are urging Albertans to defend themselves against the season’s fevers, sniffles and coughs with the flu vaccine that became available across the province this week.
According to AHS, the flu typically affects Canadians between November and April, but it is possible to catch at any time.
The Government of Canada recently stated on its website that parts of Western Canada have reported an increase of influenza, while the rest of the country has not.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said at a press conference at Southport Pharmacy on Friday morning that the flu’s arrival in Australia this year has AHS preparing for a potential early-onset of the virus.
“[Australia] had an early flu season, but not a severe one,” said Hinshaw. “Even though we look to Australia as a predictor of some seasons, it’s not a guarantee.”
Hinshaw noted that while the flu virus is unpredictable, there are common variations that are likely to re-emerge this season.
“We tend to see H1N1 followed by H3N2, and [then] going back and forth,” Hinshaw said.
Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s minister of health, said at the conference that enough of the vaccine has been ordered to cover 35 per cent of Alberta’s population.
He also addressed reports that manufacturers of the vaccine are experiencing shortages and delays across Canada, and said Alberta should not be impacted.
“We are aware that there have been some production issues with some manufacturers,” Shandro said.
“So far, we have not had to delay any of our shipments out to pharmacies, physician offices or AHS.”
‘Vaccine skepticism’ biggest threat to health
Dr. Eddy Lang, the head of emergency medicine for Calgary, said on the Homestretch Friday afternoon that vaccine shortages are less likely to prevent people from getting immunized than “vaccine skepticism.”
“The issue is almost never flu vaccine or stocks; it’s people either feeling that they don’t need it, or that it doesn’t work,” said Lang.
“So I have no concerns that there will be enough vaccine. What I am concerned about is that people will take unnecessary risks.”
Lang stressed that anyone who has a weakened immune system should be vigilant about getting the flu shot, such as the elderly, who are more likely to have their lungs impacted by influenza.
Lang also encourages those with respiratory issues including asthma or COPD to get immunized quickly.
“Those [issues] are clear indications that you need protection against the flu virus,” Lang said.
The vaccine’s level of protection, Lang says, is maintained throughout the entirety of flu season once immunized.
“You never know when the season’s going to peak, you never know when you’re going to be exposed, so the earlier you get the vaccine, the earlier your antibodies will be stimulated and you’ll be in a protected state.”
Albertans can get the flu shot at pharmacies, doctors’ offices and, starting Oct. 21, public health clinics.