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Ottawa Public Health expects more flu this year than last

Ottawa Public Health is leaning on pharmacies and physicians' offices to help with its 2021 flu shot campaign. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Evan Buhler

Ottawa Public Health officials believe the 2021 flu season will see more of the virus this year than last with fewer public health restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic in place.

Dr. Brent Moloughney, Ottawa’s associate medical officer of health, told reporters Thursday that the upcoming flu season, for which vaccine shots are widely available to all residents aged six months and older starting Nov. 1, is likely to be different from the one in 2020 when few if any cases of influenza were reported.

“Essentially, we didn’t have any influenza last year, really reflecting all of the public health measures, behaviours and practices that were in place. There just wasn’t the opportunity for flu to spread,” Moloughney said, reflecting on the first flu season of the pandemic.

“We’re in a different context this fall, so I think there’s a greater likelihood that we’ll see some flu,” he added.

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OPH’s flu shot rollout, which last year involved mass vaccination clinics open to nearly all Ottawa residents, will also look different.

This year, the local health unit is leaning more on pharmacies and physicians to deliver flu shots to the general population.

OPH community clinics are being reserved primarily for youth aged six months to two years old and their parents, as well as those who don’t have an Ontario health card or face other barriers to getting the shot.

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Marie-Claude Turcotte, immunization manager at OPH, told reporters that last year’s pandemic precautions meant most physicians weren’t seeing clients face-to-face, limiting their ability to play a role in the flu shot campaign.

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Moloughney said that OPH is planning to use its clinic capacity to vaccinate kids aged five-to-11 against COVID-19, pending Health Canada’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine in the weeks to come.

“We are anticipating doing a lot of COVID vaccines this fall, and are really looking to our partners of other delivery channels to have a greater role with the flu vaccine,” he said.

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