Seniors over 65, toddlers between six and 23 months of age and caregivers for either can line up to get their free flu vaccine beginning Friday (Oct. 14).
Also, aboriginal people, those with a chronic health condition or those who are obese, and others at higher risk of contracting the flu or working in a potential outbreak setting are also eligible for the free shot in the arm.
“The vaccine is the most effective way to protect yourself from flu epidemics that happen every year,” said Dr. Murray Fyfe, medical health officer with Vancouver Island Health Authority.
While cold and stomach flu viruses made the rounds in past months, Fyfe points out it’s still early for more serious influenza attacks, which usually affect people between November and January.
“It’s best to get vaccinated as soon as you can,” he said. “It takes about two weeks for your system to build up immunity to the flu strains in the vaccine.”
This year’s flu shot includes protection from H1N1 and two other strains of the virus. Fyfe expects a fairly regular flu season this year, given there haven’t been outbreaks of new viruses in other parts of the world.
Still, it’s no guarantee.
“Flu viruses are very unpredictable and can mutate mid-season,” he said, explaining that is why people who are vaccinated may still get the flu.
While some are skeptical about the safety and effectiveness of the flu shot, Fyfe said the benefits outweigh the risks.
“Some people will experience local pain or swelling in the arm the vaccine goes in, for up to a day or two,” he said. Compared to a week in bed with a fever that can lead to pneumonia and sometimes more severe symptoms, discomfort from the vaccine is very mild.”
VIHA ordered 200,000 doses of the vaccine for the Island. Those eligible for a free shot need to show some form of government ID at the drop-in flu clinics. Times and locations, as well as eligibility criteria, are listed at www.viha.ca/flu.
Others can get the vaccine from their family doctor or at a walk-in clinic.