Adrian Ziemczonek estimates he’s put more than 500 needles into arms as a pharmacist who has provided immunizations to people in the community since 2015.
As a clinical pharmacist and lecturer at UBC’s Pharmacists Clinic, he plays a key role in organizing public vaccination clinics at UBC while also maintaining an active patient care practice based at the Pharmacists Clinic.
With influenza season approaching, we asked Ziemczonek what people should expect and how they can protect themselves in the months ahead.
What should we expect this flu season?
It’s always difficult to predict what the flu season will look like for B.C., but we usually get an initial sense by looking at the patterns in the southern hemisphere. Countries such as Australia experience their flu season in the spring and summer, ahead of our traditional flu activity which runs from October through to March.
In Australia, influenza cases surged much earlier than what is typically seen for them, with many cases occurring right at the start of their season. Australia also experienced its worst flu season in more than five years in terms of the number of confirmed cases.
Based on this, it’s possible that in B.C. we’ll see a higher number of flu cases compared to previous years and higher activity earlier in the season, possibly in November and December.
We haven’t seen many influenza cases here in B.C. these past two years, mostly due to the effectiveness of public health measures that were in place such as masking, physical distancing and travel restrictions. However, the influenza virus never went away, and as measures were relaxed, we started to see influenza cases increase again like in Australia.
Is anything different with this year’s flu vaccine?
The vaccine remains mostly the same from year to year, containing three or four different strains that are chosen based on what’s making people sick before the flu season. This year the flu vaccine contains two new strains that weren’t in the vaccine last year.
Another change is that in B.C., an enhanced vaccine will also be offered for adults ages 65 and older, to provide better protection as older adults have higher risk of complications from the flu.
Where can people get vaccinated?
Flu shots will be offered starting October 11 mostly through community pharmacies, public health clinics and doctors’ offices. This year the community pharmacies will play an even bigger role in delivering vaccines. Over the fall, they will provide COVID shots along with the flu vaccine.
The easiest way to book your influenza vaccine is through the province’s Get Vaccinated system. This is the same system that was used to book COVID vaccines through the pandemic.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
In B.C. everyone six months and older is eligible for a free, publicly funded flu shot. Everyone should be getting a flu vaccine. Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease and even healthy adults are at risk of becoming infected and getting sick. Influenza spreads quickly, and getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you.
COVID-19 boosters are being rolled out as we speak. Should people get both vaccines at the same time?
It’s perfectly safe to get both COVID and influenza vaccines at the same time, or any time after other vaccines. Our immune system comes into contact with thousands of foreign bodies and pathogens every day, significantly more than what is contained in these two vaccines. There is no risk of overwhelming our immune systems.
As with any medication, vaccines can cause side effects which are primarily mild and self-limiting. Studies to date have shown that co-administration of COVID-19 vaccines with seasonal influenza shots showed either similar or a small increase in expected side effects with no overall safety concerns. With both influenza and COVID-19 potentially co-circulating this fall, getting both vaccines ensures you have the best protection.