Dr. Brian Conway has advice for anyone thinking about getting a flu shot this fall.
“Run! Don’t walk to get your flu shot,” he said, speaking from his office at the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre.
“I think there is great consensus behind the statements that there will be a significant influenza season going forward.”
The bad flu season experts see looming on the horizon is due, in part, to last fall and winter when influenza was effectively eliminated in British Columbia and across Canada, thanks to COVID-19 health orders that prevented gatherings and travel, and promoted physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing.
But, with social life now returning to normal, zero flu last season will have consequences this season, in that the population is likely now more susceptible to the virus.
“People don’t have any built-up immunity that they might have [developed] from a flu season last year, or from getting their [flu] shots last year, or both,” said Conway.
“So we’ll go from the best year on record for influenza to something other than that.”
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said the flu shot is expected to be widely available mid-October.
Symptoms of influenza — fever, cough, sore throat, head and muscle aches — can be similar to those of the much more lethal COVID-19.
Dr. Ross Chang, past president of the B.C. Society of Allergy and Immunology, said people should seek a COVID-19 test if they are at all concerned.
“I think that any kind of infection with fever that persists certainly deserves a COVID test,” he said. “COVID infections have a whole range, so patients can be infected with COVID and be asymptomatic.”
For those people yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Chang suggests leaving one to two weeks between a COVID shot and the flu jab in order to manage any side-effects.
“It’s important not to get them at the same time — not because they interact, but because the adverse effects can be very similar,” he said.
With COVID-19 still circulating widely, Conway said it’s even more critical that people be immunized against both COVID and the flu.
“It will reduce the amount of disease that spreads in the community — both influenza and COVID — and reduce the number of people that have to interact with the health-care system,” he said.
Two companies, Moderna Inc. and Novavax Inc., have announced they are working on a combined flu and COVID-19 vaccine, which Conway believes will be the future.
“There’s the expectation in many circles that COVID is going to be around for a while. Flu, obviously, has been around for a while and will be around and we’re just going to be vaccinating people for both on a yearly basis,” he said.
“But for now, please run and get your flu shot.”