We are now at the height of flu season. While this usually extends well into March, this year, experts are concerned we may have a longer one (like Australia did). If you haven’t already gotten your flu shot, do it now. It’s not too late.
When you get the flu shot, you’re not just protecting yourself. You’re protecting your family, friends, colleagues and strangers around you as well. This is very important, as the flu can make the young, the old and those with health complications very sick. There have already been some sad stories of young healthy people either dying or suffering permanent injury due to the flu this year.
The flu is not the same as a cold. It is an illness that kills an estimated 3,500 Canadians and hospitalizes 12,000 Canadians in a year. There are different strains of the flu. Influenza A, which usually affects older adults, and Influenza B, which typically targets children. Usually, one strain wanes as the other peaks. However, both flu strains are present at the same time this season.
Despite the very real risks of getting the flu, only 42 per cent of Canadian adults reported getting a flu shot last year. This is in part due to vaccine hesitancy, based on misinformation. I have written before about vaccine hesitancy, which is a growing phenomenon that the World Health Organization listed as one of the top threats to global health care in 2019. I can confidently speak for all of Ontario's 31,500 practicing doctors when I say that some of the points I have previously made are worth emphasizing again.
The flu vaccine is safe. The vaccine occasionally has some mild side effects, such as headache, fever or muscle aches, but these are minor and will quickly go away.
Vaccines do not give you the disease they protect against. The flu shot will NOT give you the flu. However, it will reduce the risks of getting the flu or flu-related complications. The flu shot doesn’t give 100 per cent immunity, but it can reduce your symptoms if you become ill.
Finally, the flu shot reduces the chances of spreading illness to others. In a perfect world, everyone would get the flu vaccine. However, there are a few people (a very very small minority of people) who legitimately shouldn’t get the flu shot (for example, infants under six months of age). But if the rest of us get the shot, we are also protecting those who are not able to get the shot or are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the flu. This is called herd immunity. Essentially it means the flu can’t get a hold on the population because everyone else is immune.
It is crucial to our health and that of our families and our communities that we resist the vaccine hesitancy trend.
I urge everyone to listen to their doctors, and not some of the so called experts that permeate the internet. There is no substitute for the medical advice given by your doctor.
The OMA has launched a multi-channel social media and advocacy campaign to target the spread of anti-vaccine myths. It specifically deals with the importance of flu shots.
For more information about the campaign, visit askontariodoctors.ca/flufacts