As the weather cools down and the days end earlier, we know that winter is just around the corner. Which also means it’s time for Canadians to think about how they’re going to fight back against our yearly friend: the flu.
Last year’s influenza vaccine may have been a dud, but experts are banking on the 2015 shot doing its job. You know, like actually being effective.
“It’s important to know that last year doesn’t predict this year,” says Dr. Bryna Warshawsky of Public Health Ontario. “And last year was an anomaly in terms of past years.”
In February of each year, the World Health Organization chooses which influenza strains should be included in the coming fall’s vaccine, based on those circulating at the time. It needs to be done that far in advance because it takes manufacturers six months to come up with a vaccine and make enough to supply programs (which begin in mid-to-late October) across Canada.
But the time it takes for the vaccine production is sometimes sufficient enough for the virus to change, which is what happened last year.
“Ideally what we would like is that the influenza strain included in the vaccine is the identical twin of what is circulating out in the community,” explains Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an expert in influenza and emerging respiratory pathogens at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver. But that almost never happens, because of how far in advance manufacturing begins.
“So typically what we’re aiming for is that these viruses might be considered like siblings — brothers or sisters — in terms of the similarities between them,” Skowronski continued. “Last season, we probably had similarities that were more like a distant-cousin relationship between the vaccine and the circulating viruses. And for the coming season, I anticipate that what we’re going to look at is more like first cousins.”
What’s also new this year? If you live in Ontario, the province is offering kids an alternative to the flu shot — in nasal spray form. The nasal spray will be available beginning Oct. 26 for kids ages 2 to 17. The bonus? It offers protection against four of the viruses instead of three. The second bonus? It doesn’t hurt. Um, can adults also have this option?
Of course, in addition to getting the flu vaccine, there are other things you can do to fight the flu, like keeping your hands clean and coughing and sneezing into your arm, not your hands or, even worse, just out into the world like an explosion. And if you do fall ill, staying home is part of recovery process, so try to call in sick so as not to infect everyone around you. Be a pal.