Health officials focus on flu shots

NANAIMO: Expect to hear more from the health authority about the importance of getting a flu shot this year.

Expect to hear more from the health authority about the importance of getting a flu shot this year.

Getting the word out about the influenza vaccine is a priority this year, said Paul Hasselback, central Island medical health officer with the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

“It’s a focus for the health system,” he said. “There’s a greater recognition of the impact that influenza has on the health system.”

The first message of the season went out last week in an editorial piece written by Dr. Perry Kendall, provincial health officer.

Kendall’s message reminds the public that even those not considered at higher risk for developing influenza complications could benefit from the vaccine, especially those who regularly work with or interact with someone who is.

“Most of us do something that puts us in contact with individuals that are higher risk,” said Hasselback. “The influenza vaccine is something we can all benefit from. Health workers come in contact with the highest risk group the most.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die each year from influenza and its complications.

Yet in B.C., only 60-70 per cent of people in the higher-risk categories get a flu shot and only about half of health care workers do so, said Hasselback.

Hasselback said severe complications include pneumonia, ear infections and other issues for people who have heart, lung or other health conditions.

For those not at higher risk of complications, it can still take upwards of a week for people to regain normal energy levels, he added.

This year healthy children age five and younger are included in the higher risk category – up from under age two in previous years.

Health officials plan to expand opportunities to get the flu shots and develop better processes for documenting who has received it, said Hasselback.

He said dispelling myths about the flu vaccine is also important, given that many people decide not to get it based on misconceptions, particularly that the shot can give people the flu. A small percentage of people get a reaction to the vaccine that includes aching muscles for about a day, but this is not influenza, he said.

Hasselback said it is much too early to tell what type of a flu season B.C. is in for.

“We are seeing influenza circulating in other parts of the world at this point, we’re seeing different strains,” he said.

For more information on influenza and flu vaccines, please go to www.viha.ca/flu.