Getting a flu shot this season may require an appointment and a long wait

The flu vaccine this season protects against four strains expected to hit B.C. this flu season, which began this month and runs through to April — H151, H3N2 and two B strains

A nurse injects influenza vaccine Friday, May 1, 2020 in Belleville, Ont. Luke Hendry/The Intelligencer/Postmedia Network FOR PAGINATORS: Long-term care and retirement homes, along with hospitals, are the first to receive shipments influenza vaccine this fall in Hastings-Prince Edward. The vaccine will also be available to the general public via primary-care providers and pharmacies.

British Columbians wanting a flu shot should book an appointment early and expect to wait a few weeks as demand for the vaccine has started out high this year, according to one of B.C.’s largest pharmacy chains.

“Everybody’s wanting to get a flu shot,” said Shawn Sangha, B.C. pharmacy operations manager for London Drugs. “The demand is there.”

Sangha said the wait for an appointment at London Drugs is about three weeks and customers can sign up online.

He said the appointment system will protect staff and customers by preventing groups of people from waiting together in the stores. Plus staff need time to clean the room where the injections take place between patients.

The vaccine this season protects against four strains expected to hit B.C. this flu season, which began this month and runs through to April — H151, H3N2 and two B strains, Sangha said.

A high-dose vaccine, which offers the same protection against the same four strains but provides four times the amount of antigens, is provided free to residents 65 and older who are residents of long-term care or assisted living homes. Others requesting the high-dose vaccine would pay $75.

“That supply (of high dose) is in high demand,” Sangha said.

Shoppers Drug Mart found in its 2020 flu season survey that 57 per cent of the respondents intended to get a flu shot this season, almost double the number of previous years, spokesman Harry Godfrey said in an email.

“COVID-19 may be spurring some people to take the flu more seriously,” he said. There is “increased concern around flu season so demand for vaccines is high.”

However, of the 40 per cent who are not planning to get vaccinated for the flu, almost three-quarters of them say “they have made it through COVID-19, so the flu doesn’t worry them in comparison, which is a concerning attitude,” he said.

Shoppers continues to allow people to walk in to a pharmacy for a shot.

To reduce the risk of contracting the flu, it’s recommended that people wash their hands regularly and keep their hands from their face, cough or sneeze into their arm, not hand, promptly dispose of used tissues, stay home when ill, keep common surfaces clean and eat healthy foods and stay physically active to keep immune systems strong, according to public health officials.

The vaccines won’t protect against COVID-19, Sangha said.

The flu can put people at risk of getting other infections, including viral or bacterial pneumonia, which affects the lungs. The risk of complications can be life-threatening, especially for those at high risk, B.C. Health says.

The province in September announced it was spending $374 million for “significantly building out the fall flu immunization campaign.” It said it was adding 450,000 doses this season, for a total of two million doses.

And provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recommended this year “more than ever” people get the flu shot, as it protects individuals and others who are vulnerable and reduces the strain on the health care system.

Symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle pain, fatigue and weakness, runny nose and cough, similar to a cold but flu symptoms tend to be worse, said B.C. Health.

It’s important for seniors to get the vaccine before the season starts, it said. The body needs about two weeks to build immunity after receiving the vaccine.

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