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Province to start offering flu vaccine to vulnerable Albertans by Oct. 13

FILE - This Jan. 23, 2020 file photo shows a patient receiving a flu vaccination in Mesquite, Texas. According to a study released on Wednesday, June 24, 2020, flu vaccines for years were close to 60% effective against the flu strain that caused the most lab-confirmed illnesses last winter, but it proved only 31% effective last season. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File).
FILE - This Jan. 23, 2020 file photo shows a patient receiving a flu vaccination in Mesquite, Texas. According to a study released on Wednesday, June 24, 2020, flu vaccines for years were close to 60% effective against the flu strain that caused the most lab-confirmed illnesses last winter, but it proved only 31% effective last season. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File). The Associated Press

In roughly one month, the province will start offering the flu vaccine to certain groups of Albertans.

Global News reported in June the province is ordering approximately 360,000 more doses of the flu vaccine, bringing the total this year to 1.96 million doses compared to 1.6 million doses in 2019 to 2020.

Flu season typically runs from November to April, and there are particular challenges this year because of COVID-19.

READ MORE: Alberta doctors say fall will see spike in respiratory viruses with influenza and COVID-19

The provincial government also said in June it will be offering a high-dose flu vaccine to all seniors in continuing care facilities for the first time ever and will be expanding work to target at-risk populations.

Health practitioners will start offering the vaccine to vulnerable groups, such as those in long-term care and supportive living as well as homeless or marginalized Albertans, by Oct. 13, according to Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan.

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Click to play video 'Alberta braces for upcoming flu season, higher demand for vaccine expected' Alberta braces for upcoming flu season, higher demand for vaccine expected
Alberta braces for upcoming flu season, higher demand for vaccine expected

The immunization campaign for all Albertans will begin on Oct. 19 and the vaccine will be offered through public health clinics, doctor’s offices and community pharmacies.

“We are currently developing new policies to address physical distancing and other public health measures that may be necessary this year as a result of the pandemic,” McMillan said

He said more information on staffing and locations will be shared in the coming weeks.

Read more: Coronavirus prevention crushed Australia’s flu season. Can Canada expect the same?

Infectious disease experts have previously expressed concern about what may happen if there are high numbers of flu cases while the province is also dealing with COVID-19.

“During viral respiratory season, we do see increasing numbers of patients being admitted to hospital and so it does stretch our healthcare resources a little bit,” said Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease physician and director of infection prevention and control at the University of Alberta Hospital.

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“If we added on top of that more admissions due to COVID-19, it could certainly stretch our resources and may result in us having to have to ramp back down in terms of our elective surgeries, etc., if we really got into a situation where we were having really large numbers.”

Click to play video 'University of Alberta virologists compare COVID-19 and flu' University of Alberta virologists compare COVID-19 and flu
University of Alberta virologists compare COVID-19 and flu

McMillan said that, by keeping the number of flu cases and outbreaks low, at-risk Albertans can be protected and healthcare workers can focus on the COVID-19 response.

“That’s why we have ordered a record amount of the influenza vaccine and strongly encourage all Albertans to get immunized when the program launches next month,” he said.

READ MORE: Alberta braces for upcoming flu season, higher demand for vaccine expected

Interest in the flu vaccine is anticipated to be higher than in previous years.

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A survey done for the Canadian Pharmacists Association shows 57 per cent of Canadians plan to get the flu shot this year; 45 per cent of those surveyed said they got vaccinated last year.

The same survey showed 34 per cent said they are more likely to get the flu vaccine because of COVID-19.

Christine Hughes, a professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta, said it is possible to get both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time but the consequences of that are still unclear.

with files from Global News