This respiratory virus season in Ontario should be easier on the province and its hospitals than last year, but success will largely depend on levels of vaccination, the chief medical officer of health said Monday.
Ontario residents who are six months and older can now receive a free flu shot and an updated COVID-19 vaccine.
People over six months of age can receive their new COVID-19 shot if six months have passed since their last vaccine dose or confirmed infection. The shot targets the XBB variant of COVID-19, among the “family” of Omicron variants currently circulating, Dr. Kieran Moore said.
It’s safe and convenient to get both the new COVID-19 shot and the flu shot at the same time, he said.
“If you want to separate them, that’s fine, (but I) wouldn’t let it go much longer,” Moore said.
“Given that we anticipate influenza season starting in the coming weeks, it’s really best to get both of those vaccines as soon as possible if we want the safest and healthiest winter and holiday season going forward.”
Last fall and winter, high levels of COVID-19, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus overwhelmed hospitals, particularly children’s hospitals, with what health officials called a triple threat.
So far this year, the impact of the viruses is looking more staggered, Moore said.
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“We’re fortunate influenza (season) hasn’t started, so that hasn’t put a health system impact or impact on the health of Ontarians yet,” he said.
“COVID general numbers are on the decline, but still quite active in the community, but the impact on the hospitals is getting less week by week and we hope as long as we don’t have fading or waning immunity that that will continue.”
The most recent updates on the Public Health Ontario website show that levels of COVID-19 in wastewater testing have been decreasing for a few weeks, but that per cent test positivity is on the rise.
As of last week there were about 400 people admitted to hospital with COVID-19, Moore said, and around 40 people in ICUs.
The flu season, while it hasn’t yet taken off in Ontario, will likely be a long one, Moore said, with both influenza A and B strains leading to the virus circulating through to the spring.
“In the southern hemisphere, they found that there was a good match between the vaccine and the circulating strains, and hence a strong protection against severe outcomes like hospitalization and death,” he said. “So we’re anticipating a good match.”
RSV season, however, is already well underway, with 100 people in hospital with the virus, up from just over 20 a few weeks ago, Moore said. About half of those patients are children under four years old and most of the other patients are over 65.
Health Canada has approved an RSV vaccine for people aged 60 and older, and Ontario is publicly funding those shots for people in that age group living in long-term care homes, Elder Care Lodges and retirement homes licensed to provide dementia care services.