‘It isn’t too late’: Albertans urged to get flu shots as Christmas draws near

With the holidays fast approaching amidst a particularly nasty flu season, Albertans are being urged to roll up their sleeves for their flu vaccine.

According to provincial data, 45 Albertans have died of the flu already this season and 1,413 have been hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza.

This fall’s death toll is just below the totals for some entire seasons prior to the pandemic (more moderate flu seasons) and it’s already higher than the total recorded during the 2019-20 flu season.

“Unfortunately, it’s not really surprising,” said Craig Jenne, associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary.

“We are significantly behind in vaccine … uptake in the province, which means our overall level of community protection is significantly lower, and as a result we are seeing a lot of sick individuals.”

Alberta Health statistics show 25.2 per cent of Albertans have received their free flu shots, lower than pre-pandemic immunization rates.

And Jenne said that while case numbers are showing some early signs of plateauing, that could easily change as people gather for the holidays.

“I don’t think it’s safe to say we are out of the woods,” he said.

“With a lot virus in the community, low levels of immunity in people and social gatherings [over Christmas], I’m concerned we may see another uptick in flu cases in the coming weeks to months.”

Dr. Jia Hu, a Calgary-based public health physician, said now is the time to get your flu shot if you haven’t already.

“It isn’t too late. We’re still very much in very, very high flu season activity,” he said.

Calgary-based public health physician Dr. Jia Hu wants Albertans to know it’s not too late to get their free flu shots (Erin Collins/CBC)

“It’s really important people do get immunized. We usually say it takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, but even if you get vaccinated now, it will give you some protection by the time Christmas rolls around.”

During a news conference this week, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, called the increase in influenza hospitalizations across the country “worrisome,” in particular the high rates among children.

Nearly 29 per cent of Alberta’s flu hospitalizations to date have occurred in kids and teens. Two children have died.

“Laboratory data indicate that this year’s influenza vaccine is a good match to circulating strains and therefore is likely to help protect against serious influenza disease,” said Tam.

“As we rapidly approach the holidays, now is the time to get vaccinated if you have not already done so.”

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