About 43,000 fewer New Brunswickers have been vaccinated against the flu, compared to the same period last year, despite warnings of a more severe season, following the lifting of COVID-19 measures.
A total of 66,488 flu shots have been administered as of November 3, figures released by the Department of Health show.
That’s down from about 110,090.
But administration of influenza vaccines started about a week later this year, department spokesman Adam Bowie said.
“And there have been some changes to the data reporting process for pharmacies and primary care providers that may be causing a slight delay in the reporting process,” it said in an emailed statement.
Bowie did not provide 2020 flu shot statistics.
More pharmacies that require an appointment
When asked what role the push to request dates might play in falling numbers, Bowie didn’t answer directly.
“Several” pharmacies still offer walk-in clinics, he said.
“It’s also perfectly safe to get your flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time, so if you can schedule both appointments on the same day, that might make things easier for you.”
A growing number of pharmacies have started asking people to make an appointment to get a flu shot, either online or by phone.
They are busier than before, administering COVID-19 vaccines and providing additional services, said Jake Reid, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists Association. They also want to make sure they have enough staff and inventory, Reid said during an interview.
Some waiting until they get the COVID booster
In an updated statement, Reid said pharmacists are hearing anecdotally that some people are delaying flu vaccination until they’re eligible for their next COVID booster so they can get both shots at the same time.
“We understand that people may be experiencing a bit of vaccine fatigue, but we encourage everyone to book an appointment to get a flu shot,” he said.
“The flu vaccine gives you protection while helping reduce the number of seasonal flu cases in our already overcrowded emergency rooms and clinics.”
The free flu shot is recommended for all New Brunswick residents six months of age and older, with a higher dose available for those 65 and older.
“Most” of the vaccines given to date have been for people 65 and older, Bowie said. He did not provide a number.
Still early in the season
Seasonal flu can pose serious health risks to the elderly, the very young and those with weakened immune systems or other chronic health conditions, Bowie said.
“Although the Department of Health would like to see the number of citizens vaccinated increase, it is early in the season and there is still time for many people to receive the protective vaccine,” he said.
Typically, flu season really starts to “take off” in January.said Dr. Yves Léger, interim medical director of health.
Asked if the department intends to step up efforts to increase vaccination numbers, Bowie said the province “will remind citizens, through announcements and social media posts, that [it has] a good supply of vaccines and that appointments are available now and in the coming weeks and months,” at pharmacies and through primary care providers, such as physicians, nurse practitioners, and public health nurses.
During last year’s flu vaccination campaign, Dr. Jennifer Russell, Medical Director of Health, urged New Brunswickians to do their part to help reduce the strain that COVID-19 had placed on the system of medical care.
Keeping New Brunswickers healthy was “more important than ever,” he had said. “By getting this year’s flu vaccine, we’re helping reduce hospital visits for flu-related illnesses and freeing up those resources for the areas where they’re needed most.”
No adverse events reported
This year’s flu vaccine provides protection against four different strains: two influenza A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2) and two influenza B viruses.
No adverse events have been reported to Public Health following flu shots this season, as of Oct. 20, Bowie said.
“It’s important to note that the influenza vaccine cannot cause ‘flu,’ as it does not contain a live virus,” he said.
However, side effects can occur with any vaccine. The most common ones can include soreness, redness, and swelling where the shot was given. In some people, symptoms may include a low-grade fever, headaches, and muscle aches that begin six to 12 hours after vaccination and may last a day or two.
Applying a cold compress to the injection site can reduce discomfort, Bowie said. People can also take over-the-counter medications for fever and malaise, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. “It’s best to ask your health care provider which medication might work best for you,” she said.
11 more positive cases
Eleven more positive cases of the flu have been reported in New Brunswick and three new flu-associated hospitalizations as of October 15, the most recent flu surveillance report.
No new outbreaks of influenza or influenza-like illnesses have been reported in nursing homes, hospitals or schools, the report shows.
Seven cases of influenza A(H3) viruses and four cases of influenza A (not subtyped) were reported between October 2 and 15.
The influenza-like illness consultation rate was below the expected level for the first of two weeks, at 0.0 per 1,000 patient visits, but slightly higher than expected for the second week, at 24, 7 per 1,000 visits, says the report.
The “sporadic activity” of influenza and influenza-like illness has been primarily in the Saint John region, Zone 2, with 10 cases, while the Moncton region, Zone 1 saw one case, according to the report.
The latest cases raise the total of the 2022-23 season, which began on August 2.From 8 to 12. The previously reported case was influenza A (not subtyped) in the Moncton region, Zone 1.
Nationwide, influenza activity is increasing but remains at interseasonal levels, according to the report.
A total of 394 laboratory detections were reported during the two-week period, including 380 influenza A and 14 influenza B.
Among the cases with detailed age information, 45 percent were children and adolescents, the report says.