It’s the time of year when everyone starts talking about seasonal influenza vaccine, AKA the flu shot. Although it is commonly thought that the flu only affects the old and frail, I have seen several otherwise young and healthy patients end up for weeks in intensive care because of it. During the 2014-2015 flu season in Alberta, there were approximately 30,000 people diagnosed with the flu, resulting in 103 deaths.
This year there are many flu vaccine choices. In the next series of posts, I am going to summarize your vaccination options.
What Is Influenza?
Seasonal influenza is a serious infection caused by the influenza virus, which is transmitted by small drops (droplets) when a person coughs or sneezes. Don’t confuse the term “flu” with the “stomach flu”, which affects your digestive system. Influenza can give you symptoms such as a runny nose, dry cough, fever, muscle, and joint pain. Some individuals who get the flu have no symptoms, but can still spread the virus. Some people have an increased risk of complications resulting from the flu. Complications from the flu usually means damage to the lungs and the heart, such as lung infections (pneumonia) and heart attacks (myocardial infarction).
Why get immunized?
Receiving the influenza vaccine is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from the flu. You should get immunized as early as possible during the flu season, which typically runs from November to April in Canada. In Alberta, government funded flu vaccines became available on October 20, 2015.
Where can I get the vaccine?
It is especially convenient to receive the flu shot this year since you have numerous ways to receive the vaccine.
I am going to break down the four main ways that you can receive the vaccine in Alberta: community pharmacy, family physician clinic, public health clinic, and workplace clinic.
Most pharmacies offer the flu shot. You should choose a specific pharmacist, who has been authorized to administer injections. Many pharmacists will accept walk-in patients, but some may want you to call ahead and book an appointment. Regardless, pharmacists continue to be one of the most accessible ways for people to access the flu shot. It is important to note, as per pharmacist standards of practice, we can only immunize patients aged nine and older.
Family Physician Clinic
If you have an upcoming visit with your family physician, call their office in advance to see if you can receive the flu vaccine. This is also a great option for families with children.
Many employers host a vaccination clinic for their employees. Check with your employer to see if they have a organized an in-house flu clinic.
Public Health Clinics
Click here to search for an Alberta Health Services immunization clinic. These clinics are the preferred option if you have young children, as they will have the child influenza vaccines available.
Cost of the vaccine
There are two different ways to “pay” for the flu vaccine. The first, and recommended way, is for you to receive the publicly funded vaccine at no cost. To receive the vaccine at no cost you must meet the following criteria:
• Be six months of age or older and live, work, or go to school in Alberta
• Have a valid personal health number (PHN)
If your PHN is inactive or you do not have a PHN (e.g., just moved to Alberta), you must go to a local AHS Public Health Clinic, or you could consider receiving privately owned vaccine.
Privately owned vaccine refers to the vaccine supply purchased by pharmacies that is not part of the public immunization program. Private vaccine is a good option if you would like a specific immunization that is not publicly funded. The private vaccine is easy to obtain since it does not require a prescription, but must be sold by a pharmacist. To have the vaccine covered by your private drug plan, you may however want a prescription written by a prescriber (e.g., physician, pharmacist, nurse practitioner).
If you plan to pay out-of-pocket, an injectable vaccine will cost about $25 and the nasal spray about $30. You can check with each pharmacy about the specific cost of a particular vaccine and the fee charged for the pharmacist to administer it.
You have many convenient ways this year to access the influenza vaccine for you and your family. In my next post, I will provide more detail about the specific vaccines, so that you can choose the product best suited to your needs.