High influenza cases and COVID-19 too much of a risk, Calgary pharmacist says
While the province is working to emphasize the vital importance of COVID-19 vaccination, health care workers are getting ready for the return of another seasonal campaign.
Starting in October, Alberta Health Services (AHS) will be offering influenza shots to all Albertans six months of age and older, free of charge.
An online booking system for appointments is yet to arrive, but officials say vaccination remains the best defence against infection and illness.
That's despite provincial data showing zero lab-confirmed cases of influenza across all five health zones between Sept. 27, 2020 and April 3, 2021.
The previous season saw 8,470 lab-confirmed cases of influenza, 1,605 hospitalizations, 161 ICU admissions and 41 deaths.
Earlier this year, experts said it was likely that the measures used to prevent COVID-19 infection – physical distancing, proper hand hygiene and other protocol – were effective against influenza too.
Even with that in mind, AHS maintains it is still very important for Albertans to acquire their seasonal flu shot.
"The influenza vaccine is the best way to lower your risk of getting influenza and having health problems related to influenza," the agency writes on its website. "It can also help stop you from spreading it to others."
'CAN'T AFFORD TO HAVE THAT HAPPEN'
Pharmacists in Calgary, like Brian Jones who works for Shoppers Drug Mart, says he hopes that people will do the right thing and get their seasonal flu vaccine.
"You could argue we are in a different restrictive atmosphere this year than we were last year," he said during an interview with CTV News. "We were much more restricted last year with what we could and couldn't do."
Now that people are out and about, attending events and meeting with friends, Jones says the risk for spreading influenza and COVID-19 is much higher. When that happens, it could put more pressure on the health care system.
"My worry is that people do end up in ICU, people do end up in hospital with flu – we can't afford to have that happen. Not only for our health care system, but for ourselves. If there's no room in the ICU now, how is there going be more room if we start getting flu?"
Jones believes the health care system won't be able to handle a tough influenza season at the same time that it's fighting COVID-19's fourth wave.
"I can't imagine getting both viruses at the same time or in close proximity to each other. It's hard to say because of the zero cases last year, but people may not feel that urgency, but there will always be that cohort of people who get the flu shots every year."
He thinks it is also unlikely that the government will need to introduce measures and incentives to encourage Albertans to roll up their sleeves once more.
"Who knows how people are feeling? I think the people who have gotten the (COVID-19) vaccine up until the last few weeks have gotten it for the right reason. There hasn't been the $100 on the table, there hasn't been (the idea of) you can't go anywhere without the vaccine."
"I'm hoping that those people that will still get the flu shot will continue the momentum of vaccination and try to get to the end of these restrictions. It's not about COVID-19 per se; it's about the burden to the health care system."
Last flu season, there were approximately 1.6 million doses of vaccine administered to Albertans.
CTV News has reached out to AHS and Alberta Health about the plan for distributing influenza vaccines.