Nearly two weeks into the province’s annual flu shot campaign, 289,990 doses of vaccine have been administered to Albertans.
The 2021-2022 Alberta influenza immunization program began on Monday, Oct. 18. All Albertans six months of age and older are eligible to be immunized, free of charge.
Information released by Alberta Health Services Thursday afternoon shows three lab-confirmed cases of influenza so far this flu season, all of which are influenza A.
Two of the cases are in the Edmonton zone and one is in the Calgary zone.
At approximately the same time in the season last year, about 597,110 doses of influenza vaccine had been administered, according to AHS.
Shivali Sharma is a pharmacist owner at an Edmonton Shoppers Drug Mart. She said while this year has been steady, the demand is not as high for flu shots as it was last year.
“Since the season started we’ve done about 1,000 shots to date. So it’s pretty good. Definitely not as high as the demand we saw last year, but there is a steady stream of people that are coming in everyday,” she explained.
“The demand was much higher last year for getting the shot, getting the flu shot. This year, because many people feel they have had protection against COVID-19 with the vaccine, unfortunately, that’s reduced the demand for the flu shot even though they’re entirely different viruses and getting protection from one is not going to protect you from the other.”
During last year’s flu season, not a single lab-confirmed case of influenza was detected in the province. There were also no hospitalizations and no reported deaths.
Health officials credited higher-than-usual influenza vaccine uptake and public health measures in place to keep COVID-19 at bay for keeping the flu away.
This year, it’s hard to predict what the flu season will look like, according to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
“We’ll have to watch closely as the season unfolds and we know that having had no influenza last year, if there are significant transmission events, there could be significant consequences and cases that have an additional impact on the acute-care system,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday.
“If we all continue to follow these preventative measures, we can continue to protect each other, not just from COVID, but also from influenza.”
More than 1.6 million doses of influenza vaccine were administered in Alberta last flu season. That translates to about 37 per cent of Albertans receiving a flu shot. This was the highest uptake for flu shots in Alberta in more than 10 years.
Sharma stressed last year’s flu situation is no reason to be complacent this year.
“It’s still important that we are getting our flu shots,” she said.
“The big thing right now is protecting our health-care system, right? Because they obviously are having a really tough time battling the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. So we really want to make sure we’re still encouraging people to come in and get their flu shots.
“If you haven’t yet received your flu shot, please do so as soon as you can,” Hinshaw said.
During the 2019-20 flu season, about 1.4 million doses of vaccine were administered. There were 8,470 total lab-confirmed cases of the flu that year, 1,534 people were hospitalized with influenza and 39 people died of the illness.
Sharma said historically across Canada, upwards of 12,000 people are hospitalized every year with the flu and over 3,000 deaths occur every year.
“It is a severe infection if you were to get sick with a flu. There are chances, and especially in those that are vulnerable — so anyone with advanced age, with immunocompromising conditions, pregnant women or anyone with chronic medical conditions — these people are at risk of experiencing sever outcomes.”
This year, a high-dose flu vaccine is available to those 65 and older. The province said it has ordered and received 400,000 of the high-dose vaccine.
This is enough to immunize every Albertan 65 and older living in congregate care settings, according to Alberta Health. It is also enough to immunize 68 per cent of Alberta’s entire population 65 and older, which is five per cent more doses than the province’s highest immunization rate achieved in that age group.
Alberta Health encourages people 65 and older to call their pharmacy in advance to ensure they have the high-dose vaccine available.
“The doses are dispersed in small amounts across the province,” Alberta Health said Thursday. “This is to ensure access for as many Albertans as possible.”
Sharma said she’s heard some pharmacies across Alberta have had low supplies of the high-dose vaccine.
“We do know that that high-dose vaccine does trigger a stronger immune response in those 65 and older. So if there is some available right now, which we do still have at our locations, please do come in and get that done.”
Albertans can book an appointment to receive their flu shot through the AHS website.
Appointments can also be booked through Health Link by calling 811 and participating pharmacies also offer drop-in appointments.
– With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED