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‘It’s unfortunate’: Vaccination rates remain low during Alberta’s worst flu season in years

Alberta is around halfway through flu season but has already seen more cases than the entire 2023 season.

At the end of December, there were 10,000 influenza cases reported. Hospitalizations and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions were also higher than last year.

Despite that, fewer Albertans are getting immunized.

“I don’t think what we should be doing is going into any panic mode, but I do think vaccines are a really easy way to really significantly reduce anybody’s risk of severe outcome,” said Dr. Jia Hu, AMA vice president of public health and preventative medicine.

According to some local pharmacies, October was a busy month for the flu shot but numbers tapered off.

Recently released provincial data shows just 23.5 per cent of Albertans have rolled up their sleeves for a flu shot. It’s the lowest number on record since 2012.

“It’s unfortunate that the vaccine rates are that low. I think a lot of that is attributable to the fatigue we feel with what happened with the Covid pandemic,” Hu said.

People can often forget how serious influenza can be, Hu said, and that it can affect more than young children and elderly people.

“Every given year we have lots of kids, teenagers, healthy adults hospitalized,” he added.

So far this season, 80 people have died from influenza in Alberta.

“Flu is just as bad as it was before Covid, it’s just as bad as it is now,” Hu said. “I think people need to recognize that the best way to protect themselves is to get their vaccinations.”

While some people may doubt immunizations work, Hu said this year’s flu shot’s overall effectiveness is around 50 per cent.

“Which is pretty good for a flu vaccine,” he added. “We’ve had some early studies showing that so there’s no mis-match this year, the vaccine does work.”

“Even if you get something like flu or Covid, you’re not gonna end up in hospital if you’ve been immunized versus you haven’t been,” he said.

Staying home when sick and hand washing can also go a long way to staying healthy and keeping others healthy, Hu added.

“They’re not just going to help protect you against flu or Covid or RSV but also the dozens of other respiratory viruses that circulate,” he said. 

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