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More than 386K Manitobans roll up sleeves for influenza shot so far

Click to play video 'Flu myths answered by Dr. Roussin' Flu myths answered by Dr. Roussin
Asked why the influenza virus isn't spreading like COVID-19, Manitoba's Chief Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, offers an explanation – Nov 23, 2020

More than 386,000 Manitobans – almost 30 per cent – have received the shot for influenza this season so far, and the province says no lab-confirmed cases have been reported yet.

“That number is likely higher as it is too early to get an accurate representation of doses administered because there can be delays with doses being entered into the provincial immunization registry,” the spokesperson said.

As of this time last year, 19.9 per cent of people had been vaccinated in Manitoba, or around 259,000 flu shots.

On Nov. 18, a spokesperson for the province said more than 268,000 Manitobans had received a flu shot so far this season, 43 per cent higher than this time last year.

Over the past several weeks, Manitobans and pharmacists have complained about being able to find a place where the flu shot is being administered, as several places were sold out.

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Read more: More than 268,000 Manitobans have had flu shot so far, says province

The province has a website called Flu Shot Finder if people are having trouble finding a place to be immunized.

No cases of influenza have yet to be reported in Manitoba, compared to 190 at this time last year.

In the first week of November this year, not one province or territory reported a single patient hospitalized with the flu, compared with 60 during the same week a year ago.

In 2019, provinces reported 147 lab-confirmed cases of flu the first week of November. This year, they reported four.

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Signs from the Southern Hemisphere, which gets hit with flu season first, were reason to hope the “twindemic” wasn’t going to happen here.

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New Zealand said its flu infections were down 99.8 per cent and in Australia lab-confirmed cases of flu were down 93 per cent. In 2019, more than 800 Australians died of the flu. In 2020, that number to date is 36.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported only one case of the flu out of about 4,000 random surveillance tests performed. Most years the program detects about 1,000 cases.

Where is the flu?

There are several reasons why the flu isn’t spreading, said Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor in the department of medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba.

“This is a result of the additional protective measures that we’re all participating in for COVID-19: distancing, masking, limited time in enclosed areas with low ventilation, hygiene, etc.,” Kindrachuk said.

“Seasonal influenza viruses, while transmitted in a similar way to SARS-CoV-2, appear to be transmitted to a lower number of people per infectious person.”

Read more: Fact check: Can COVID-19 tests be tricked by the influenza virus and other questions answered

This means, of course, that if fewer people get influenza, fewer people will be infected in the community. Add in protective measures we’ve already been doing since March, and you get a slower spread of the virus, Kindrachuk said.

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“We also have the advantage with influenza viruses of pre-existing immunity through our natural exposure to these viruses during our lifetimes and as well through prior and current vaccinations.

“With COVID-19, we don’t have that buffer of pre-existing immunity in our communities, nor licensed vaccines.”

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief provincial health officer, agreed.

“Simply put, they’re different viruses,” he said in late November.

“When we’re dealing with this novel coronavirus, essentially, we have a universal susceptibility.”

“Not to play influenza mildly, though,” he added. “Influenza causes thousands of deaths in Canada every single year.”

— with files from The Canadian Press