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What you need to know about getting the flu shot in London, Ont.

A nurse shows a flu vaccine at a clinic in Seoul, South Korea on Sept. 22, 2020.
A nurse shows a flu vaccine at a clinic in Seoul, South Korea on Sept. 22, 2020. EPA/YONHAP

As Middlesex-London Health Unit associate medical officer of health Dr. Alex Summers says, “getting the flu shot is important every year” but “it’s really important this year” amid a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Get your flu shot. It’s now being distributed into the community. It’s available through pharmacies, through your primary care practitioners, your family doctor, your nurse practitioner. It’s out there and it’s free,” Summers said.

“And this year, more than ever, we’re reminded that these viruses are problems and we can do something about it when it comes to flu by getting a flu shot. Take advantage of the things that you can do to protect yourself. Take advantage of that free flu shot.”

Read more: Ontario announces $70M flu shot campaign as part 1 of fall COVID-19 plan

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Local pharmacist Nick Vander Gulik, owner-operator of the Shoppers Drug Mart on Richmond Street in downtown London, says the COVID-19 pandemic has really reminded people that by protecting ourselves, we can protect vulnerable loved ones.

“And I think that flu shot does the exact same thing. So you may not have complications of the flu but an elderly family member might. It’s really important this year, as it is every year, to get your flu shot.”

Click to play video 'What you can do to help stop the spread of flu this season' What you can do to help stop the spread of flu this season
What you can do to help stop the spread of flu this season

But how do you take advantage this year and what new protocols are in place?

Flu shots are available from October to March each year and are “free and available to anyone 6 months of age and older,” the health unit says.

“If you cannot access flu vaccine … because you don’t have a valid Ontario Health Card, or you have a child under 5 years of age without a healthcare provider, please call the Health Unit to discuss options at 519-663-5317.”

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Various walk-in clinics and health-care provider offices — an umbrella term encompassing places like family doctor offices, hospitals, long-term care homes and more — are offering the flu shot, though residents may want to contact their preferred choice to confirm.

As for workplaces, the MLHU has told Global News it wouldn’t necessarily be made aware of those arrangements as they are typically made independently of the health unit.

Some major pharmacy chains are moving part of the process online.

Read more: ‘Never had such high demand’ — British Columbians keen on flu shots amid COVID-19

Rexall says it’s offering the flu shot as usual but is encouraging people to book their flu shot appointment online, though it says its pharmacies “will still be accepting walk-ins.”

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Shoppers Drug Mart is also directing people online, but Vander Gulik says it’s not for specific appointment times.

“Instead of touching clipboards, to reduce the contact and really protect people, you can go on to our website and fill out your form before you even present to the pharmacy,” Vander Gulik said.

“You’re provided with a code that you can present to the pharmacy. We print off your report so that you don’t have to contact anything and then we just call you in and do your injection right then.”

Click to play video 'Reports of flu shot shortages in Quebec and Ontario' Reports of flu shot shortages in Quebec and Ontario
Reports of flu shot shortages in Quebec and Ontario

However, Vander Gulik said some locations “may not have supply currently.”

“So if you go into the Shoppers Drug Mart website, you can sign up and it’ll text you when the flu shot is available at your closest location.”

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He added that the pandemic has resulted in new distancing, cleaning and other rules as compared to last year, but “otherwise, it’s the same experience.”

“As usual, walk into your pharmacy, ask for a flu shot. And based on the demand, they’ll be able to administer that for you.”

Demand, Vander Gulik says, is much higher this year in part because the immunization campaign started earlier.

“Last year didn’t really start until the end of October, but the government really wanted to make sure that people had more time to get the flu vaccine to kind of avoid this idea of a twin-demic, which is, you know, high cases of the flu and COVID-19.”