Get your flu shot before it's too late
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 06:00 am
With the first frost on the windows and people feeling unsure of how to dress for the season, it’s the perfect time of the year to catch the flu – or to get yourself vaccinated against it.
Lisa Devos, owner of Salvus Rxellence Professional Dispensary, has administered flu vaccinations at her St. Albert pharmacy for two years.
She said many patients came to get their vaccine during the H1N1 crisis – a flu outbreak that cost almost 40 lives in the Edmonton area in 2009. Few people came in for their annual flu shot in following years.
“I am not exactly sure why but we get the kind of comments that they may not think it’s necessary and why have a needle for nothing,” she said.
“It’s just silly.”
Christopher Sikora, Edmonton health officer at Alberta Health Services, said the more people get immunized; the more they ensure a healthy environment for themselves, and others.
“It’s a safe product. It’s quick and easy and it helps. And it’s a decision that all of us make,” he said.
With the influenza virus changing every year, the annual immunizations are important to keep the public healthy. Throughout the year, researchers study the virus before they remove part of it (a protein cell) to create the vaccine.
The protein cannot reproduce or spread but forces the body to create a natural antibody that protects the individual from contracting the virus in the future. This year’s vaccine also provides protection against the H1N1 strain.
The number of Albertans immunized against influenza each year remains below the provincial target of 33 per cent. In 2011, Alberta Health officials counted only 23 per cent of the population receiving the flu shot.
In the Edmonton area 24 per cent of the population received the vaccine. Twenty-seven per cent were children and adults aged 6 to 23, and 62 per cent were seniors.
Sikora said the flu causes almost 20,000 hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths across Canada every year. The most common signs of influenza are a sore throat, runny nose and cough. High fever, soreness, aching muscles and headaches can accompany these symptoms.
Those at the highest risk for severe health problems are children between six and 23 months, as well as elderly people over 65 years, pregnant women and individuals with chronic medical conditions.
Sikora said parents should be concerned about their children’s, and their own wellbeing. Children under the age of six months cannot receive the vaccine and are at a high risk of contracting the virus.
“Children tend to get sicker, especially the very young ones. We try to protect them as best as we can but children see a lot of people,” he said.
“They are nice and playful and if they are ill they tend to spread (the virus) more.”
To take away the fear of needles, Alberta health officials will aid the immunization of small children and teenagers by providing them with a nasal spray vaccine rather than injections.
FluMist is designed for children between two and 17 years of age, though some adults may be eligible to use it. Children with asthma and other underlying lung problems must take the regular vaccine.
Sikora said the benefits of the vaccine and feeling a little tired or sick after taking it outweigh those of contracting influenza.
“We tell patients every time that they may get a little red area on their arm or might have a little bit of a temperature but Tylenol can solve that,” he said.
“Influenza is a serious illness. What we do is protect people from getting sick and from dying. That’s what we do but it takes an active effort on the individual’s part to round up their kids and parents and get immunization.”
Clinic schedules are available in newspapers and online. This year, the Alberta Health Services (AHS) website is offering a mobile-optimized clinic finder tool, to make information more readily available.
In mid-October, an influenza category will be added to AHS’s app for iPhones and Android devices. And Alberta Health Services Medical Officer of Health Gerry Predy will connect with Albertans through his Twitter chat on Oct. 10, and on his influenza blog.
Devos said most customers know about the vaccinations at her pharmacy through word of mouth. She also consults with those who pick up prescriptions and invites everyone to ask questions and get informed. The pharmacists at Salvus Rxellence can give injections to anyone over nine years old.
Free public immunization will begin on Oct. 15. St. Albert’s Immunization Clinic is in the Grandin Park Plaza Mall at 22 Sir Winston Churchill Avenue. Drop-in dates can be found at www.albertahealthservices.ca/immunization
Information on AHS’s social media campaign can be found at www.albertahealthservices.ca/socialmedia.