Mild start to B.C. flu season, but officials still recommend vaccine

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It’s still early in the season, but health officials in B.C. are gearing up for the arrival of the flu.

At the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), staff are already stockpiling vaccine which will be provided free of charge to people in at-risk populations.

“BCCDC purchases and warehouses and distributes about 1.5-million doses every year of the influenza vaccine,” said BCCDC warehouse manager Jim Sinclair.

READ MORE: Flu season this year could be mild – but you should still get your flu shot

While staff are leaving nothing to chance, there are already some encouraging signs this year’s flu season could be less severe than others.

“Early indications, so far, we’re not picking up much in the way of influenza,” said BCCDC influenza lead Dr. Danuta Skowronski.

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“It’s quite early, but you may be surprised that last year, we had five to 10 times the number of detections already.”

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Flu outbreaks in recent years have been particularly bad, with care homes hit the hardest.

The BCCDC says more than 3,700 people tested positive for influenza last year, many of them from H3N2 and H1N1 strains.

READ MORE: Four deaths linked to flu sweeping through B.C. Interior care facilities

Six in 10 of those cases were among adults aged 65 and over.

“What I’m hoping is that the immunity our population has acquired will help keep H3N2 away,” said Skowronski.

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For those who are particularly worried, there is even a stronger dose of the vaccine available. However, the high-dose vaccine is not covered by the province, even for seniors.

“Individuals may wish to avail themselves of that high-dose vaccine, but I think they should be aware of the marginal increase in protection,” said Skowronski.

READ MORE: Peak flu season hits BC with officials warning about outbreaks

The high-dose vaccine costs about five times as much as a regular dose, but only reduces the risk of flu by about 0.5 per cent compared to the regular dose.

While the season does appear to be starting off at a milder pace, officials are still encouraging people in at-risk populations to get the regular dose vaccine.

Seniors, people with underlying chronic health conditions and the very young can get the shot for free.