It takes five minutes, it’s free and it can save lives. And yet, two-thirds of Canadians don’t get their annual flu shot.
The annual influenza vaccine campaign has kicked off in Manitoba and, despite a countrywide shortage of this year’s vaccine at the beginning of flu season, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the province had received 84 per cent of its total allotment last week, with the rest to follow. The vaccine is safe and effective, and it’s the best way to protect yourself and those around you.
Put another way, there’s really no excuse not to get the jab.
Immunization rates are trending in the right direction. More than 336,000 flu doses were administered in Manitoba in 2018, a record number. But we could still do better — and doing better should be a priority.
The fact is, people die from the flu. In October, the Free Press reported that 17 people with lab-confirmed cases of the flu died in Manitoba last year, while 42 were admitted to intensive care units. There were 228 hospitalizations because of influenza. Nationally, the flu kills an estimated 3,500 Canadians every year. More than 12,000 Canadians end up in the hospital.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, muscle aches, headache, chills, fatigue and a sore throat. It’s highly contagious.
The reasons for not getting the flu vaccine, like most other vaccines, are often rooted in myths and misconceptions. No, the flu vaccine does not cause the flu as it does not contain a live virus, but it does take up to two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body. Though they share symptoms, flu and cold are not the same.
Some people believe the flu vaccine doesn’t work, especially if they’ve happened to contract the flu after getting one. But partial protection is better than no protection. Even partial protection will help limit severity and duration, as well as prevent hospital stays.
But perhaps the most harmful misconception is people who believe that, because they are in good health or are relatively young, they don’t need to be immunized. The chorus of "I never get sick" people is often a loud one.
Here’s the thing: getting a flu shot isn’t just about protecting yourself from the flu. It’s also about protecting the people around you. High-risk people — including those over 65, those with compromised immune systems, those living with chronic illness, children under five, and pregnant women — can develop life-threatening complications from the flu, such as pneumonia and heart attack. Prevention can help mitigate the strain placed on emergency rooms and intensive care units.
Getting a flu shot isn’t just about protecting yourself from the flu. It’s also about protecting the people around you.
And while it’s hard to predict what the 2019-20 flu season holds for the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere can often offer health officials and experts a clue.
In 2017, Australia, where flu season runs from May to October, had its worst flu outbreak in two decades. The 2017-18 flu season in the United States, which followed six months later, was among the country’s deadliest, killing an estimated 79,000 Americans.
This year, Australia had another brutal flu season that began in April.
Go get your flu shot.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.