Getting the flu shot used to be easier — you could pop by a local clinic or make an appointment with your physician, or you could stop by a pharmacy and get it done while driving home from your child’s hockey practice.
For the most part, you can still do that with this year’s flu shot, but it’s 2020 and COVID-19 has changed just about everything, including health and safety protocols around our annual flu shots. Here’s what pharmacies are doing to help customers get their immunization safely — and what it will look like when you go.
Why get the flu shot?
While it’s important to get your shot every year, in 2020 it’s even more critical. “This year we have a heightened responsibility to get the shot, especially since symptoms for flu and COVID-19 are so similar,” says Victor Wong, a pharmacist and associate owner of a Toronto-based Shoppers Drug Mart. In fact, the dual assault of flu and COVID-19 could overwhelm Ontario hospitals, especially as we deal with the second wave of COVID-19. “The flu alone in a normal year is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada. It generates more than 3,500 deaths each season and about 12,000 people are hospitalized each year,” says Wong.
For those in the high-risk category this shot is even more critical. Individuals in this category include children from six to 59 months; people with chronic medical conditions such as heart conditions, diabetes and cancer, HIV; pregnant people; Indigenous peoples and residents of chronic care homes. “We also can’t forget about the caregivers of those individuals. It’s important for them to get vaccinated to protect themselves and so they don’t pass it along to the ones who are getting taken care of,” adds Wong.
The vaccine is available imminently, depending on when the Ontario Ministry of Health releases them to pharmacies and medical clinics. Along with the regular flu shot, the Fluzone High-Dose flu vaccine will be available for those over the age of 65. “Studies show it has four times more antigens than the regular vaccine so it’s 24 per cent more effective for seniors,” says Wong.
How pharmacies are helping
Along with physician’s offices and public health flu clinics, pharmacies will also provide flu shots this season and they’ll be available on a walk-in-basis. The Shoppers Drug Mart chain of stores will also hold dedicated flu clinics with posted times for high-risk patients. “This will help support reduced wait times to lower the chance of coming in contact with other individuals,” says Wong. “Contact your local Shoppers to find out if they’re participating in this program.”
The process within pharmacies will be different compared to traditional flu clinics, given there will be a number of enhanced safety and hygiene protocols this year. The following changes will be implemented:
- Visitors to the pharmacy will be screened for COVID prior to vaccination.
- Those waiting for a shot will also have to fill out a contactless digital consent form (you can do this at home prior to coming in).
- Within pharmacies, there will be designated waiting areas before the shot. “Sometimes stores will repurpose their different waiting areas so there’s more space,” adds Wong.
- Patients are required to wear a mask, regardless of local mask bylaws. (For best protection, wear a two-layer mask with a removable filter.)
- While administering the shot, face shields and masks will be worn by the pharmacist as well. Pharmacists will also sanitize their hands between patients.
- In between patients, the counselling room/flu shot administration area including chairs, tables, equipment, etc. will also be sanitized.
Following protocols like these, getting your flu shot this year will go a long way in protecting your health. “Once you’re infected with the flu, your immune system is weakened for a period of time and you’re at a higher chance of getting other infections,” says Wong. “Once you’ve had infection from the flu, that puts you at higher risk for COVID-19.”
Watch for flu shot availability at your local Shoppers Drug Mart and get vaccinated this year.