Nova Scotia’s top doctor is imploring people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others from respiratory illnesses this fall.
“Getting vaccinated is an important step to help protect our whole community,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, during a news conference Tuesday.
Strang said while the province has had “very low” COVID-19 activity over the summer, cases and hospitalizations are starting to increase – though “these numbers are significantly lower than previously seen in other pandemic waves.”
As well, the province has seen early signs of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and no significant increases in influenza – though they are expected to increase in the coming months.
“We expect that both these viruses will start to appear as usual in late fall, early winter,” he said.
‘Careful, but not alarmed’
The doctor said there were “reassuring signs” over the winter in the southern hemisphere, which can help predict seasonal patterns here.
He said they saw “typical rates of influenza and modest increases in COVID-19 activity, with infection rates much lower than during the height of the pandemic.”
“This is reassuring, even though it is still certainly far too early to know exactly how things will play out in Nova Scotia,” Strang said.
“So we need to remain careful, but not alarmed, and continue to follow our successful, multi-layered approach that helps minimize the spread of all respiratory viruses.”
The province will begin offering the updated COVID-19 vaccine to people aged six months and older, as well as the regular-dose influenza vaccine for those aged six months to 64 years, later this month.
People are able to get their flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time, and appointments will be posted online as they are made available.
Moderna’s updated COVID-19 vaccine will be available the week of Oct. 16, and the standard dose influenza vaccine will be available the week of Oct. 23. Pfizer’s updated COVID-19 vaccine will be available in late October/early November.
The province also announced Tuesday that the high-dose flu vaccine will be made available for free for all Nova Scotians aged 65 and older, not just those living in long-term care facilities. The high-dose vaccine will be available starting this week at pharmacies and medical clinics.
“Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to prevent severe illness, and it’s most important for older people, the very young, pregnant people, and those with significant chronic health conditions,” Strang said.
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‘Triple threat’ of respiratory illnesses
Infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett told Global News Tuesday morning that there’s a “triple threat” this fall from influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19.
“We’re going to see all three, and COVID’s already well on the upswing,” she said, though she noted that vaccines can be used to combat infectious diseases.
She recommended that people stay up-to-date on their vaccines, and stay home if they feel unwell.
“It really does help to keep the rest of the world healthy, and there’s some pretty vulnerable people out there,” Barrett said, adding that wearing a mask in public places can also help reduce the spread of disease.
Respiratory illness season got off to an early start last year, especially among younger populations.
In November 2022, officials said they were starting to see the number of respiratory illnesses peak much sooner than in previous years, with the IWK children’s hospital ICU working well above capacity.