Hamilton in for a tough flu season, say pharmacy professionals


Published November 1, 2022 at 9:08 pm

There is strong indication that Canada is in for a tough flu season, but in the plus column, Hamilton pharmacy operators say people are getting out in front of by getting a flu shot.

The public health unit in Hamilton has opened influenza vaccination to all in the city, with shots available at 350-plus locations. It is also converting its COVID-19 dashboard to one more generalized about respiratory diseases.

Elder adults 65 and over have been eligible for an age-appropriate flu shot for two weeks. Bhupinder Nagra, a pharmacist and owner of a Shoppers Drug Mart on the West Mountain, says the store saw a steady stream of demand for a flu shot.

“We always take a lead from the Australian side,” Nagra said in a telephone interview. “Their flu season has been bad. That is pretty much a predictor for us, it’s considered that this flu season is going to be bad too, coupled with the fact that over the last two years we had the (COVID-19 health) protections in place. We had the facemasks, we were careful about shaking hands, keeping away from other people.”

On a scale of one to 10, Nagra projects flu season ’22-23 to be in the range of “six upwards through, I would say, nine, if not 10.” As he noted, with mandatory masking, social distancing and indoor activity/capacity restrictions in the winters of ’20-21 and ’21-22, “everybody had the protection on.”

Australia is used as an indicator for Canada since it has winter from June to August, months before the first snow flies the Great White North. Per darkdaily.com, it had its more severe flu season in five years.

“We usually try to match the strains (of influenza) with Australia,” said Jaspreet Sodhi, who is an associate owner of two Shoppers locations in Hamilton — one near McMaster University and another in Dundas.

“This year it was the worst flu season for them in several years. That’s why are we encouraging Canadians to get their flu vaccines.”

A free flu shot can be given at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine, including Pfizer’s new biovalent booster. The only age group that is the exception to the rule are children between ages 5 to 11. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the federal advisory agency, recommends that they should have a two-week wait after getting a COVID-19 vaccine due to caution about side effects (which are generally mild).

In the view of NACI, it recommends that anyone whose last jab against COVID was more than nine months ago is no longer adequately vaccinated. Nagra added that the urgency to get flu shots is reinvigorating uptake of COVID-19 vaccines.

“There’s a huge uptick in the COVID uptake, especially with Pfizer bring out the biovalent that has the Omicron and the original COVID-19 in there,” he said. “People are getting them in one arm each now.”

Community members who want a flu shot can find a location at hamilton.ca/flu. Pharmacy chain locations offer both appointments for flu shots and accept walk-ins.

The federal government estimates that the flu causes about 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada annually. The anticipated uptick, though, comes while emergency rooms in Hamilton hospital networks have had extended wait times for weeks on end. The world-renowned McMaster Children’s Hospital is also so overwhelmed that it is moving teenaged patients into adult intensive-care-unit beds.

And COVID-19 has not yet become endemic.

“We still need to remember that the pandemic is not over yet,” Sodhi said. “There are still outbreaks coming up here, there and everywhere. So the recommendation is talk to your pharmacist, get the vaccines.”

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