Annual flu shot season begins

Doctors' offices, clinics and pharmacies have begun the annual influenza vaccination program, which is free for seniors and children between six and 23 months old.

B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong gets his flu shot from pharmacist David Pavan at the B.C. legislature Monday.

VICTORIA – Doctors’ offices, clinics and pharmacies have begun the annual influenza vaccination program, which is free for seniors and children between six and 23 months old.

Others eligible for the vaccine at no charge include health care and emergency workers, caregivers for seniors and children under two years old, pregnant women in their third trimester during winter flu season, aboriginal people and those who are very obese.

Other B.C. residents not in high-risk groups can get a flu shot by paying a dispensing fee. The influenza vaccine is formulated each year to target the dominant strains of the respiratory virus that infects between 10 and 20 per cent of the population each year.

The vaccine program was expanded in 2009 with the emergence of the H1N1 strain around the world. With pharmacists trained to provide the injections, about 40 per cent of B.C. residents received the vaccine in the largest mass immunization in Canadian history.

There were 55 deaths in B.C. related to H1N1, mostly of people with underlying medical conditions. Hundreds of people die each year from seasonal influenza.

“Influenza vaccination is a great way to avoid infection with influenza viruses and to protect other, more vulnerable individuals,” said Dr. Perry Kendal, B.C.’s provincial health officer. “And of course, it is still important to follow basic hygiene practices, such as washing your hands and coughing into your sleeve, and staying home when you are feeling sick.”

B.C. residents can find the nearest flu shot clinic by calling HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 or using the online B.C. flu clinic locator.