Don’t panic — flu vaccine has arrived in the Okanagan.
“I know there was some worry a couple of weeks ago that there may be a shortage,” said Nathan Klaassen, the pharmacist owner at Shoppers Drug Mart in Kelowna’s Glenmore neighbourhood.
“Some vaccine manufacturers are slow getting product out and there’s been some delays in distribution, but we received our first shipment of vaccine a week ago and we still have some left,” Klaassen said.
Klaassen also expects regular shipments throughout flu season.
“If there are any gaps, it will likely only be for a day or two and then we’ll get more,” he said.
“We’re telling people not to worry. We expect to have supply all season long.”
For now, the annual vaccine is only for those considered at risk and the people who care for them or are in regular contact with them.
Those at risk include seniors, children age six months to five years, those with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems and pregnant women.
Getting vaccinated makes sense for people considered at risk, but Klaassen said it’s equally important for healthy people who come in contact regularly with them to get a flu shot.
“If a healthy person does get the flu and then gives it to someone at risk, that’s serious,” he said.
“Stopping the spread of flu is so important. Flu shots reduce the spread of the infection by 70%.”
That said, flu vaccination isn’t a cure. It takes a week or two to offer full protection. Even then, the shot only reduces your odds of getting the flu, by about 60%.
For those at risk and those in regular contact with them, the cost of the vaccination is covered by the province’s Medical Services Plan.
“They do a little bit of paperwork, which includes their CareCard number, and then they get the injection,” said Klaassen. “The whole process takes a total of 20 minutes, with only one minute for the actual injection.”
For healthy people who simply want to get a flu shot for peace of mind, the cost is $25.
Healthy people aren’t being offered the vaccine yet and won’t be until after those at risk get their shots and vaccine supply is ensured.
Last year, 34% of Canadians got a flu shot.
Forty-nine per cent of Canadians don’t plan to get vaccinated this flu season.
Influenza is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system and leads to a nasty couple of weeks of fever, running nose, sore throat, muscle pains, headache, coughing and fatigue.
Most healthy people can deal with flu season by avoiding it in the first place by washing their hands regularly, not touching common surfaces and staying away from anyone who has the infection.
A healthy person who gets the flu can take over-the-counter medication for the symptoms and know it will pass after a week or two of mild-grade misery.
However, for those at risk, flu can be debilitating, with severe symptoms and longer duration.
About 3,500 Canadians die from flu every year.
For now, the no-appointment, drop-in system Shoppers Drug Mart in Glenmore has is working fine for the steady stream of people seeking vaccination.
The pharmacy will start offering appointments, clinics and visiting care homes as we get further into flu season.
Flu immunization by public health staff has become less common since pharmacists began providing flu shots.
However, immunization services are still provided by public health staff in hospitals, care homes and public health clinics. Such clinics are expected to be scheduled in the Interior Health region starting the first week of November.
“We are likely to receive 90% of our total influenza vaccine supply by mid-November,” said Heather Amos of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
“In the meantime, vaccine is being distributed as soon as it arrives. Services available in long-term care facilities, hospitals and through physicians and pharmacies will get first priority.”