Ask the Pharmacist

Q. I am hearing some chatter about flu shots already. Since there were minimal cases of influenza last year, is there any need for getting the influenza vaccine? Will being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 not help with the flu?

A. Last year’s influenza season did result in a very low number of cases which did not surprise the health care industry. First off, for much of last year’s influenza season, we were in various degrees of restrictions and/or lockdowns due to the coronavirus. Not only did that prevent the spread of COVID, but it also reduced the spread of the influenza virus as well.

Secondly, we have all been inundated with many advertisements regarding simple methods to reduce our risk of contracting COVID such as frequent hand-washing, social distancing and mask wearing. Again, it should not come as a surprise to learn that these measures work for both COVID, influenza as well as many other airborne transmissible diseases.

Recall that last year’s cough and cold season was also close to non-existent. This just proves that these dramatic measures were effective in reducing communicable diseases of all sorts. We now have proof as to just how effective simple and inexpensive interventions such as masks are at reducing the spread of spittle that we both knowing and unknowingly emit from our mouths and nose when we speak, breathe, cough and sneeze. Since we are still in a pandemic, masks will likely continue to be a part of our attire for the foreseeable future.

As for living in a state of lockdown, there might be some that thrive with isolation but most people would agree that they do not wish to live out their lives that way. Nor is that what the government wishes for our province or country. (My apologies go to the few anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists who want you to believe the government is behind all of this and want to control your lives by keeping you in lockdown and injecting you with a tracking device). This is where the vaccinations come into play.

We have all had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Many of us have already made the choice to get doubly vaccinated while others are just in the midst of getting the jabs. Regardless of where you are in the vaccine process, thank you for doing your part for getting us one step closer to normalcy.

These vaccines are very effective at reducing our risk of getting very ill with COVID which has been proven in our hospital admissions right across the provinces and territories. The majority of those requiring ICU care are among the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. It is important to note, however, that the vaccines that were administered for COVID are specific to that coronavirus and will not alleviate any infections of other coronaviruses (i.e., the common cold) or any of the influenza viruses.

Now that many restrictions have been lifted, people are gathering once again which is fabulous for our mental health. With autumn upon us, so too, is the cooler weather and diminished daylight hours. That brings people wanting to gather indoors. With the vaccine passport protocols now enforced in Ontario and other provinces, fully vaccinated individuals may continue their social activities safely in an indoor setting. Though we will be mostly protected against getting COVID in these settings, we will be more susceptible to becoming infected with the usual fall/winter ailments we all know and dislike, the cough/colds and the “flu”.

We know that staying two metres apart and masking is a very effective way to reduce our risk of the above ailments. We also know that this is not attainable nor desirable when you are meeting others at a restaurant to dine indoors. We are also very social beings and after many months of being away from family and friends, we are ready to get back to seeing people we haven’t seen in well over a year.

The fully vaccinated can be rest assured that you are well protected against COVID but remember that you may still get COVID (albeit only very rarely a case that will require hospitalization) and you may also transmit COVID to others. So, we need to still pay attention and continue to reduce our risk of these infections by frequent hand-washing and masking when appropriate.

We can also protect ourselves from the influenza virus with the flu shot. Though the influenza vaccine is not available at our pharmacy as of yet, you can put yourself on our waitlist by going to and following the link to register for the influenza vaccine. This will allow you to register for;

· high-dose flu vaccine for those over 65 years of age, subject to availability
· Flu-Mist, an intranasal flu vaccine which is not publicly funded but may be purchased through the pharmacy, subject to availability
· Regular flu vaccine, subject to availability

Stay tuned for the breakdown of how the vaccines differ from one another and the timing of the vaccine roll-out as per Ontario’s Ministry of Health. For more information on this or any other topic, contact your pharmacist.