Fall is traditionally the start of influenza season in Canada, but the virus was kept largely at bay last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Now that restrictions are lifting, there are concerns about the upcoming flu season.
Health officials attributed the drop in cases a year ago to limited social activities, mask-wearing, remote work and school and physical distancing measures.
Paul Bowman, the owner and operator of Bowman’s Pharmasave pharmacy in Fredericton, said it’s still early, but the warning signs are there for a challenging flu season.
“With schools going back, we’re already seeing cough, cold, earaches, sniffles that I didn’t see last year,” Bowman said. “So if that’s any indication at all of what’s to come, then I can sort of see a busier flu season ahead this year.”
Diane Harpell, board chair of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia and a pharmacy owner in Dartmouth, said demand for flu vaccines was quite high in her province one year ago, and she expects a similar appetite this year.
But people focusing on COVID-19 need to remember that the flu is still around, she said.
“These are two very different illnesses caused by two very different bugs,” Harpell said. “There is a need to protect yourself from both so I do hope that people will still take it seriously and have the conversation and listen to the information that’s out there.”
Harpell said the next few weeks will be key. If COVID cases and hospitalizations rise, she said there will be a greater need to protect people from the flu and keep hospitals from being impacted further.
New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said public health is monitoring health care capacity closely.
Russell said if hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients, problems could arise in other areas of acute care like influenza.
“Our health care capacity is one of our most precious things that we do have to protect, and all of the things that we do today do impact that,” Russell said.
“And moving forward, that will continue to be a huge priority.”
Health officials say it is safe to receive COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations at the same time.