We’ve come a long way when it comes to awareness around annual flu shots, but a new poll suggests almost 40 per cent of Canadians don’t plan on getting the shot this year.
According to the recent poll by B.C.-based retailer London Drugs, 37 per cent of Canadians said they won’t get vaccinated this year, due to confusion that still exists around the flu vaccine.
“Unfortunately, many Canadians might not get a flu shot this year due to misconceptions about the benefits of receiving a flu shot and concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines,” London Drugs pharmacist Gianni Del Negro said in a statement.
“The reality is that the flu shot is safe and it is the most effective tool we have in protecting against the flu, preventing its spread and ultimately it saves lives.”
Misconceptions still exist
Speaking with Global News, Del Negro adds that some of these misconceptions of the vaccine not being safe can be linked back to the anti-vaxx movement.
“The anti-vaxx movement disseminates a lot of false information about vaccines,” he said. “They often quote unreliable and unverified scientific studies to back up their claims.”
And with social media, it gets harder for the average Canadian to figure out which site or information is truthful and which is misleading, he said.
“Often, anecdotal stories of serious reactions and complications get reported as being common when in fact they are extremely rare and in many cases not even due to the vaccine itself.”
Pharmacist Jordan Clark of Shoppers Drug Mart in Ottawa added that questionable sources these days look and feel the same as reputable ones.
“You can read a website that looks and feels like Health Canada or a public health agency website that has information that is not correct,” he told Global News.
Any type of negative press, viral posts or even anecdotal stories on social media — for example, someone talking about getting sick after getting the flu shot — can all add to misconceptions about the vaccine.
Hope in the numbers
The poll also found 29 per cent of Canadians believed healthy people don’t need the flu shot, 20 per cent believed the flu shot can cause negative side effects and 16 per cent believed they didn’t need it, “because they are not around many people or vulnerable people.”
However, 79 per cent of Canadians thought getting the flu shot every year was important, especially to protect vulnerable populations like seniors, babies and small children.
“Around the same number (84 per cent) say that they are aware that the flu vaccine helps prevent hospitalizations and save lives. Last flu season there were 3,657 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 223 deaths in Canada,” the statement noted.
“Since pharmacists have been able to inject and offer flu vaccines, we have been able to engage with patients and debunk some of the myths and concerns they may have,” Del Negro added. “This has educated the public about the importance and safety of vaccines.”
Watch below (Sept. 24): A new survey suggests nearly 40 per cent of Albertans will not get their flu shot this year. Su-Ling Goh has more in Health Matters.
He believes that the majority of Canadians believe in the importance of vaccines, but a very small (but vocal) anti-vaxx movement will never be convinced vaccines are safe.
“As healthcare professionals, we need to remain diligent in providing this accurate and important health information to the public about vaccines and other health issues.”
Clark agrees and adds that since pharmacies across the country have been able to offer flu shots, he has seen a spike in Canadians getting the shot overall.
“You can get it at 8 a.m. on your way to work or you can get it at 5:30 p.m. on your way home… You can get it on a Saturday or Sunday,” he said. “I think we’ve actually seen the accessibility piece improve.”
Sometimes, he even sees people coming into the retailer during lunch with a group of co-workers — getting the flu shot often becomes a word-of-mouth referral.
Raising more awareness
Del Negro says it is up to government health authorities, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and the media to continue raising awareness around getting the flu shot.
“As the most accessible health care profession, pharmacists can have a real, positive influence in this regard. Patients should seek medical advice from their health professional and not from social media,” he said.
“In addition, the public needs to be more aware that by getting vaccinated, they are also providing a public service and benefit by protecting others that cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.”
Clark notes that skipping the flu shot may not necessarily mean someone is anti-vaccine, often they could just be lazy. A flu shot can become quite personal: if you are too busy, get sick too often or just don’t think it will protect you, you are less likely to get the shot.
But a flu shot isn’t just about protecting yourself — Clark says it is even more beneficial to people in your life. Healthy people can fight off the flu within a week, but others don’t have the same privilege.