The No. 1 reason Canadians don’t get their flu vaccine is because they don’t feel it’s necessary, according to Statistics Canada.
The Canadian community health survey for 2015-16 found that 58 per cent thought it wasn’t needed and 14 per cent weren’t sure or believed if it was beneficial.
StatCan also states the flu causes about 3,500 deaths each year and is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the country. In the 2015-16 flu season it’s reported that only 32.4 per cent of Canadians, aged 12 and older, got their flu shot in the last 12 months.
Dr. Lisa Freeman, a medical health officer in Nova Scotia, said many people are unaware of what the flu really is. They often confuse its symptoms with a cold.
“It’s possible that people don’t know about the symptoms … or they might not have the information,” she said.
The flu is a respiratory disease caused by influenza virus that can come with serious complications, such as pneumonia. People who are at a higher risk of getting complications are children under five years old, adults over 65, pregnant women, Indigenous people and those with chronic diseases. Despite this, anybody could get complications from having the flu.
Moreover, the flu is highly contagious and can be easily spread.
“It’s fairly easy to transmit because if you’re standing near somebody and they cough or sneeze, if they’re infected with the influenza virus then they could pass it to somebody else,” said Freeman.
She said that not only is it important to be vaccinated, but it’s important to cough or sneeze into a tissue or sleeve and to stay home when sick to avoid passing the illness on.
“I think the first step is providing awareness so that people know that the flu shot is available and that in Nova Scotia it’s publicly funded,” said Freeman.
In the 2016 to 2017 influenza season there were 442 confirmed cases and 27 influenza-related deaths reported in Nova Scotia. As of February only 43.5 per cent of healthcare workers in Nova Scotia get their flu vaccine, according to the Department of Health and Wellness.
‘Protecting the community’
Lorna MacMillan is president of Parkwood Home Care, a company that provides caregivers for seniors in Halifax. She said that it’s important to get the flu shot so that a person can prevent themselves from getting the flu, but also prevent themselves from passing it to others.
“Not only are you taking care of yourself, but you’re protecting the community that we live in,” she said.
MacMillan said she makes sure that her employees get their flu shot to prevent spreading it to clients, who are at a higher risk of getting flu complications.
“What’s the harm in getting the flu shot? What do you have to lose? You’re just gonna be healthier by getting the flu shot,” said MacMillan.