Health experts say the coming cold and flu season could be nasty, and are urging Canadians to get vaccinated against the flu as soon as possible.
“The flu is going to make a comeback,” said Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre.
And as more people become eligible for third doses of COVID-19, doctors say it’s perfectly safe to combine the two vaccines. Gerald Evans, an infectious-diseases specialist at Queen’s University in Kingston, said two international studies have already shown that simultaneous flu and COVID-19 shots are safe and effective.
Unlike COVID-19, which usually results in mild cases among children, the flu can cause serious illness in kids, Dr. Evans said. Some reports of flu cases in India and the Middle East suggest that influenza B could be a dominant strain this year, he added, which is significant because it typically hits children much harder.
It’s still unclear how effective this year’s flu shot will be and more will be known as the influenza season ramps up and researchers track how well the vaccine protects against the dominant strains.
Since the start of the pandemic, influenza levels have been substantially lower than is typical during the winter months, largely because of masks, distancing and other health measures that were implemented.
This year, as more of those restrictions are relaxed and people return to indoor gatherings, infectious-diseases experts predict seasonal viruses will surge. And because COVID-19 continues to circulate, putting pressure on some health care systems in Canada, there is growing concern about how hospitals will juggle additional patients.
“We need to keep those numbers down,” Dr. Evans said.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), anyone six months and older can receive a flu shot as long as they don’t have any medical reasons that would preclude them, such as having an anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose.
The agency warns that it’s possible for people to become seriously ill from a combination of COVID-19 and influenza, and therefore it’s important for high-risk groups to receive a flu shot. These include seniors, people with certain chronic medical conditions (such as lung or heart disease), people who are immunocompromised, and people such as long-term care workers who could transmit the flu to those at increased risk of COVID-19.
It is safe to receive the flu shot in combination or before or after other vaccines, including one for COVID-19, PHAC says, however there are circumstances when people should postpone getting vaccinated. Anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or any other respiratory infection should wait until they recover in order to reduce the spread of infectious disease. People who are in quarantine because of COVID-19 should also wait until the period of self-isolation is over.
Some companies are already working on trials of a combined COVID-19 and influenza vaccine for next year, Dr. Conway said, to make it easier and more efficient for people to get protection from both.
There has been some concern in the past that flu shots could increase a person’s chance of being infected with a seasonal coronavirus (distinct from COVID-19), based on the findings of one U.S. study from several years ago. Subsequent research has failed to back up that study, according to PHAC.
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