Why Getting a Flu Shot This Winter Is Important

Prepare for a “twindemic” – a severe flu season looming amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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BC could be going through a difficult flu season, according to two flu experts who say one of the best ways to stay healthy will be to roll up your sleeves for another hit.


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As we approach our second winter amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several reasons why the flu outlook is more dire than it was last year, said Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Center for Vancouver Infectious Diseases and Assistant Professor at BC University

During the 2020-2021 flu season, only 18 cases of flu were detected in British Columbia, as the province was in various stages of lockdown during the colder months of the year. Typically, the province has several thousand flu cases, with about 4,100 during the 2018-2019 flu season.

Conway said the decline can likely be attributed to the COVID-19 blockages that reduced the number of interpersonal interactions to about 40 percent of normal and limited the ability of the flu to spread.


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“This year our interactions are around 80 to 90 percent of normal, which is a significant difference,” he said.

Last year’s relatively flu-free season could affect this year in other ways as well.

Conway said there will likely be less “background immunity” in the community – that is, the number of people who have been exposed to the flu virus in the past – giving them and the community a little extra protection.

The design of the flu vaccine, one of the best tools for fighting flu outbreaks, has also been hampered.

Conway said scientists generally base their formulation on viruses circulating in the southern hemisphere, as well as data collected during the previous year’s flu season. With the limited spread of the flu last winter, “this year’s vaccine will be a bit more of a guess than usual.”


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But the professor maintained that the flu vaccine remains one of the best ways to protect oneself and the community, not only from contracting the virus, but also from more serious diseases.

“They have spoiled us with the COVID injection,” he said. “The flu vaccine is 50 to 60 percent effective at best, and if you’re over 65, you lose about 20 percent of that effectiveness.”

The last factor that worries the flu expert is the growing level of frustration in the community.

“We are all tired of this,” he said in reference to the pandemic. “I am concerned that some complacency will set in.”

If people start to defy restrictions or stop wearing masks and washing their hands, the flu could easily take hold.

Conway said some American models predict that this year’s flu season could double the number of cases compared to a year before COVID.


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Dr. Ran Goldman said British Columbia should prepare for a “twindemic” – a severe flu season looming at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic. In a typical year, more than 1,000 Canadians die from influenza, said the pediatrician and UBC professor. “The flu can be a very serious illness.”

Scientists have been working to better understand how COVID-19 interacts with the flu, but research has been limited by the low number of flu cases last year.

Goldman said it is fair to assume that contracting both viruses at the same time could “overwhelm” a person’s immune system, while contracting them one after the other would be difficult on a person’s body.

He said parents, in particular, face a difficult task trying to differentiate between colds, flu and COVID-19.


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Generally, a cold presents with a runny nose and congestion, while influenza and COVID-19 come with a fever, he said. Influenza can be like “hitting a wall,” with strong symptoms like fever and muscle aches that come on quickly, while COVID can take time to build up and stay longer.

“They are not easy to tell apart,” he said, advising people to get tested for COVID-19 to be sure.

In her briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said there has been a “dramatic increase” in the number of school-age children being tested for COVID-19 since school started, from around 100 per day. to 500 in the last three weeks. However, the test’s positivity rate has remained lower or decreased.

“The area that we see that is still high is that of children between five and 11 years old, where it is between five and 10 percent,” said the provincial health official. “That means the number of cases is increasing in that particular age group.”


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But Henry said the trend in COVID-19 cases among school-age children remains linked to vaccination, with communities with lower vaccination rates seeing the increases.

The latest issue of BCCDC’s influenza surveillance bulletin, which covers the period from May to the end of August, says that no influenza viruses were detected among the nearly 15,000 samples tested during the summer. In the pre-pandemic stage of 2019, 237 influenza viruses were detected among 1,100 samples analyzed during the same months.

The BCCDC expects to release more information related to the flu season and flu vaccine in mid-October.

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