Health experts ponder the return of flu season amid 4th wave of COVID in Hamilton

New Brunswick flu vaccine input is lower than it was last year. Stuart Ramson/AP Images for Seqirus

A Hamilton pharmacist believes the success of this year’s flu shot will largely depend on timing of COVID-19 boosters shots, now rolling out across the province.

Hauser Pharmacy’s Phil Hauser says with third doses of COVID vaccines being administered to the province’s most vulnerable, residents might opt not to add the flu shot as protection, especially if they typically don’t already get it every year.

“I think they would be a little bit more unlikely now to get the flu shot, just given that there were some social mandates for COVID shots,” Hauser said.

The chemist was hoping for some sort of additional guidance from the province in regards to how pharmacies should handle administering the two shots following the announcement that $89 million worth of flu vaccines have been purchased for 2021-22.

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“We had the expectation there maybe some guidance given on that with co-administration of the flu shot and that we would be kind of doing both at once,” said Hauser.

“I think it’s going to be very taxing if that third COVID vaccine shot does come in and we do have to do that and we’re doing the flu shot for that same population as well.”

Last week, Canada’s top doctor warned that the country will likely have a normal flu season, with declining COVID cases suggesting Canadians may have less immunity since it was virtually non-existent during the pandemic.

Click to play video: 'Doctors warn flu season could return with a vengeance'
Doctors warn flu season could return with a vengeance

“This year we are anticipating a possible flu resurgence, due to lower levels of immunity in the population as a result of less circulation last flu season, and the easing of some restrictive, community-based public health measures,” Tam said.

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A recent Hamilton-based study supported the health community’s recent characterization of the flu in 2020, revealing the positivity rate of the virus dropped to 2.5 per cent compared with the average yearly rate of 10 per cent between 2010 and 2019.

“Our findings suggest that efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic may have had additional benefits in suppressing the transmission of other respiratory viruses in Hamilton, Ontario,” the study said in its conclusion.

“Mitigation strategies, such as physical distancing, mask-wearing and school closures, could play an important role in combating future seasonal respiratory viruses and emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential.”

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Public Health Ontario says flu cases reported through its surveillance systems were historically low in 2020, with less than 25 cases of laboratory confirmed cases of influenza reported. The province had 12,829 laboratory confirmed cases in 2019/20 and 10,743 in 2018/19.

The province also revealed that despite being in a pandemic, uptake in flu vaccine shots in 2020 actually was up 10 per cent compared to 2019.

Hamilton’s medical officer of health says with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization giving the okay to administer the COVID vaccine with other vaccines, the city will likely not alter the format of its rollout for 2021/22.

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“The flu program always rolls out to those that are most vulnerable first, to long term care homes, retirement homes, to primary care practices to vaccinate those who are at higher risk of complications of flu, and then of course, it goes to the general public altogether,” Richardson said.

The city’s top doc believes Ontario’s purchase of 7.6 million flu vaccine doses and last year’s uptick in inoculations could be a positive sign that the affliction will not rebound after a year off.

“So between having more vaccine hopefully being used this year, as well as continued COVID measures, we’re hoping rates will stay low,” said Richardson.

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