Fewer fighting flu with vaccines

Reduced flu vaccination this year can have negative impacts on both individual and public health

25 per cent of Canadians regularly get the flu vaccine.
25 per cent of Canadians regularly get the flu vaccine.

With cold and flu season beginning to come to an end, public health records show that there was an average 10 per cent drop in vaccinations this flu season.

Dr. Gerald Anthony Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Kingston General Hospital and an associate professor with Queen’s Medical School, said the reduced uptake of the flu vaccine this year could be attributed to flu fatigue.

“Canadians heard so much about [the vaccine] in 2009 with the [H1N1] pandemic,” Evans said, adding that this caused vaccination rates to be far higher in past years.

Evans said that many people don’t treat the flu as severely as they should, and this also leads to a decrease in immunization.

“People mistakenly think a bad cold is the flu, but in reality the flu is one of those infections or diseases that people would prefer not to have,” Evans said. “The more people we vaccinate and make immune, the less likely the impact of the flu will be severe.”

Evans said that like most vaccines, the flu shot allows your body to develop antibodies that neutralize the virus and prevents you from being effected by it.

Scepticism still surrounds the vaccine, Evans said, and this also contributes to its reduced uptake.

“People think that they can get the flu from the vaccine; that’s completely not true because the virus is a dead virus,” he said, adding that there are few risks associated with getting the vaccine.

Evans said that the current vaccine is made in chicken eggs. After obtaining a copy of the influenza viruses in circulation, a seed strain is created and then used to replicate the virus. This replication is then treated to inactivate the virus.

“About half of the egg production in the world actually goes towards vaccine production,” Evans said, adding that the vaccines distributed in Kingston are produced all over the world, but are licensed by Health Canada before use.

“The vaccine is pretty standard every year, the only thing changed is what types of influenza virus go in it,” Evans said. “By looking at surveillance data, we can see which strain [is most common this year.]”

Evans said that many people believe that if they get the flu shot once, they are protected against it for years, but because the strains used in the vaccine change year to year, it’s important for people to get vaccinated every year. In November, the University ran a one-day public flu clinic on campus.

Statistics show that at least 25 per cent of the Canadian population regularly gets the flu vaccine, Evans said, but he estimates the percentage of university students who get it is much lower.

“Students are generally, young, healthy and vigorous. They think they don’t need the protection. They are also busy with lots of stuff and I’m sure it’s a low priority within their schedule … even if you’re young and healthy, it’s a good health habit to get the vaccine every Fall,” Evans said.

The flu vaccine is available from October until late February. To book an appointment with Health Services, call 613-533-2506.

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