Influenza season begins as early as October and on a bad year, can head into April, officials say. It’s peak time to get immunizations, which are free at the Lacombe Rexall.
The Rexall pharmacy will have shots available until the end of November, and the Lacombe Memorial Centre will see its next immunization clinic on Nov. 18th from 1 to 7 p.m.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) is offering free shots in multiple locations in Red Deer for the remainder of the month as well. Dr. Tigby Horne, one of three medical officers of health for the Central Zone AHS said that AHS has a goal to immunize 45% of the population with the aim of reducing the spread of influenza strains.
“If you get up a bit higher than that, in theory you’re going to limit the transmission and reduce illness in the population, and maybe even protect people who haven’t been immunized,” said Horne.
“Something that people may not realize is that 20-25 per cent of the population is infected with influenza every year. Some people may not have any symptoms, but nonetheless they can transmit it to other people, and they can transmit one to two days before they’re sick.”
Immunizations are not a guarantee that a person will be free of influenza, but there is evidence that suggests immunizations reduce the severity and longevity of infections, officials say. Flu shots are made up of the World Health Organization’s most accurate prediction of what will be the most common strains for a season.
There are two main groups for vaccines – an inactive strain vaccine and a live-attenuated vaccine.
Trials of the vaccines have shown that the live-attenuated vaccines are most effective in children ages two to 17, with the killed vaccine most effective in adults.
The main reasons that people do not qualify to receive a vaccination are egg allergies, severe anaphylactic reactions to previous influenza vaccines or any of the ingredients and children under the age of six months.
For all other populations, including the elderly and pregnant women, there are vaccinations available.
“The live vaccine is only given to kids two years and older because it may cause some wheezing in kids under two years of age. The live vaccine is not recommended for women who are pregnant or for people with compromised immune systems, or who have an egg allergy.
“That’s not the case for the inactivated shot, because studies have shown that even with that allergy, or cases of compromised immune systems, the killed vaccine won’t cause a problem for you,” said Horne.
The killed vaccine can be given to most everyone except for few rare instances.
Citizens should talk to their doctor if they are concerned about being eligible to receive a flu shot.
“It’s been suggested that the killed influenza vaccine can give you influenza. That is not the case. You might get a fever, a headache or some muscle soreness but that’s not influenza, it’s the immune system reacting to the vaccine,” said Horne.
“We need to talk about influenza – which is primarily a respiratory illness – and how it is different from nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, which is common with a noro-virus, also known as ‘stomach flu’.”
According to Horne, influenza vaccines are about 60% effective in preventing laboratory confirmed cases in young, otherwise healthy people.
He said that in elderly populations, the efficacy is about 30% using the same formula.
This means that elderly people are at a much higher risk of catching the flu, but should still get vaccinated to prevent more serious illness.
“We do suggest people take advantages of clinics because they might get infected beforehand. Vaccine is also available from some physician’s offices and pharmacies. Those are three ways to get immunized, and we are recommending people do that over the next six to eight weeks.”