While COVID-19 may be top of mind for many, area residents are being encouraged to get vaccinated against another seasonal illness that will soon be here.

Influenza season is on the horizon, and to better protect yourself against the flu this fall and winter, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit is encouraging people to get their free flu vaccine.

Locally, there are many different ways to get the flu vaccine; including pharmacies in Haliburton County, which can provide flu vaccine to anyone two years of age and older.

High-dose flu vaccines for people 65 years of age and older are also available at pharmacies.

A complete list of local pharmacy locations providing flu vaccines is available at hkpr.on.ca.

Local health care providers can also provide the flu vaccine. People should contact their primary care provider to see about getting one.

The Health Unit is providing flu vaccine clinics for children under the age of five who do not have a family doctor. Clinics are appointment only, so to schedule a time, call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 1507.

“The flu vaccine is safe, effective and your best defence against influenza,” said Dr. Natalie Bocking, Medical Officer of Health with the HKPR District Health Unit. “Getting the flu vaccine will also help prevent unnecessary hospital visits and reduce the strain on our health care system, which continues to deal with the impact of COVID-19.”

For those worried that getting the flu shot will affect their ability to get a COVID19 shot, don’t fear. “It is safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time, so if you’re receiving your flu shot and still have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, now is the time to get them,” Dr. Bocking added.

Flu vaccine is recommended for anyone six months and older. This is especially true for those most at risk of getting sick from flu, including: babies, young children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems.

To further stop the spread of flu, and COVID-19, the Health Unit recommends that people wash their hands thoroughly and often, sneeze and cough into their sleeves, and stay home from work and school if they are sick. Eating well, getting sufficient sleep and being physically active on a regular basis also helps keep the body’s immune system strong.

COVID boosters and pneumonia vaccines

County doctor, Nell Thomas, said people should be reminded about not only flu shots, but COVID-19 boosters and pneumonia vaccines as well.

She said there’s an average of 13,895 confirmed influenza cases annually in Ontario. Each year, flu vaccines are tweaked to capture the circulating strains. These are identified during the flu season in Australia, which happens ahead of North America’s.

She noted that as of 2019, the vaccines no longer use eggs and therefore an egg allergy is not a reason to avoid a flu vaccine.

“You can track on the Government of Canada website a weekly flu report watch summary. Flu season starts mid-November and ends mid to late March. Getting a vaccine reduces risk of contracting the virus, spreading the virus, and reduces the severity of this respiratory illness,” Dr. Thomas said.

She added eligibility for third booster shots for COVID-19 continues to increase, now including health care workers and adults 70 years and older with six months since their last shot. She said research shows immunity to the virus wanes considerably a few months after vaccination, and COVID vaccine antibodies may disappear in seven months, so that as the virus continues to circulate our chances of contracting increases again, as does our risk of transmitting to others or having a more serious illness. “By keeping our immunity high with booster shots, and getting the majority of people vaccinated, the transmission of this virus will be diminished and eventually stopped,” she said.

Dr. Thomas added that anyone over 65, and anyone from 19-64 with immune compromising illness is recommended to get the pneumonia vaccine.