“A flu vaccination offers the most effective way to prevent getting the flu and spreading it to others,” says Hans Epp, a pharmacist for 32 years. “Children, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions are most vulnerable when it comes to the flu, and it can lead to very serious health complications, including pneumonia.”

It’s not just about you

You can spread the flu virus before showing any symptoms. By getting vaccinated you can help prevent the spread of flu to those around you. This can help protect the most vulnerable in our society — infants, older adults, and those with chronic health conditions.

According to Dr. Bryna Warshawsky, a physician with Public Health Ontario, only about 30 percent of Canadians get vaccinated for the flu each year. Given the importance, safety, and convenience of getting a flu shot, it’s a number that health officials would like to see increase. “We would definitely like to see more people get vaccinated,” says Dr. Warshawsky. “It’s about 50–60 percent effective. If you had a 50 percent chance of winning the lottery, most people would probably buy a lot of tickets. With a 50 percent effectiveness at preventing influenza, getting a flu shot will decrease your chances of getting sick and passing infection on to others.”

Stopping the flu is easy

Each year, scientists at the World Health Organization try to match the flu vaccine with the most common strains of the virus that are expected to circulate in the upcoming flu season. While most often they are successful, sometimes the virus can change, which can impact how well the vaccine works. And because the strains of flu in the vaccine are usually different from year to year, it’s important to get vaccinated every year.

With pharmacies able to provide the vaccine, it’s very convenient. “People can walk into any of our Shoppers Drug Mart stores without an appointment booked, or schedule one online at Pharmaprix in Quebec, to get a flu shot. They don’t need an appointment,” says Epp. “Our goal is to make it easy for people to stay healthy.” For most Canadians, the cost of the vaccine is covered by provincial governments.

Dr. Warshawsky says that despite the increased awareness of the flu and the ease of vaccinations, there are still lots of misconceptions. “There are very few reasons one shouldn’t get vaccinated. It’s very safe and a good choice to prevent illness, not only for you but those around you,” she says. “And you can’t get the flu from the vaccine.” Dr. Warshawsky adds that pregnant women should get vaccinated to prevent complications in themselves. As well, research has shown that vaccinated pregnant women can pass protection on to the baby before they are born which can protect the baby against flu for several months after birth.

Don’t be the one to get the flu

The flu season typically runs from October–April, and the virus can easily be spread through coughing and sneezing. Approximately 5–10 percent of Canadians will get the flu in any given year. For some it will mean missed work and social activity, while for others it can cause more serious complications such as pneumonia, hospitalizations, and even death. In Canada, it is estimated, on average, about 12,000 people are hospitalized from the flu and about 3,500 die each year.

Given that it takes two weeks following immunization for protection to take hold, now is the best time to get the flu vaccine before flu activity really takes off. Other things you can do to protect yourself from getting sick include staying active, eating well, and washing your hands regularly. It is also very important to stay home when you are sick to prevent spreading flu and other infections to colleagues and friends at work or school.

“As health professionals, we can’t do it alone. We need the public’s help,” says Epp. “Don’t be afraid to talk to your pharmacist about the facts, science, and benefits of the vaccine. We share a duty to the most vulnerable to prevent the spread of the flu.”