Carly and Shaindel
Carly Rebelo, (L), Manager of UHN Infection Prevention and Control, and Shaindel Kestenberg, Manager of UHN Health Services. (Photo: UHN)​​

When the leaves begin to change colour, we know that means flu season is just around the corner. While COVID-19 has been top of mind for many, we can't forget about the flu.

Like COVID-19 vaccination, the flu shot is our best defence against severe sickness from the flu.

UHN's Health Services team has joined forces again this year with UHN Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) for the Annual Flu Campaign.

Shaindel Kestenberg, Manager of Health Services Clinics (formerly Occupational Health), and Carly Rebelo, Manager of UHN IPAC, discussed with UHN News some key questions about getting the flu vaccine this year.​

Q: What are the benefits of getting the flu vaccine? How effective is it?

The flu vaccine is helpful in decreasing your risk of flu infection or at the very least, decreasing the severity of the infection. Now that kids are back in school and things are opening up in our community and around the world, respiratory season has the potential to be significant. Having vaccines for flu and COVID-19 at least decreases our risk with these two illnesses.

There was a study published in June of this year that showed among adults, flu vaccination was associated with a 26 per cent lower risk of Intensive Care Unit admission and a 31 per cent lower risk of death from flu compared to those who were unvaccinated.

Q: There were limited cases of the flu in Ontario last year. Why is it still important to get the flu vaccine if flu is barely present?

There were fewer cases of the flu last year due to reduced international travel, social distancing, masking, focus on hand washing, and significant closures of public places. We do not know what the flu season will look like but travel between countries has opened up and really increased so we may see the flu again. As we have made progress in COVID-19 vaccine rollout, we have been cautiously dropping our guard against COVID-19. With schools reopening, travel resuming and social events increasing, we are anticipating the recirculation of flu cases.

Q: Besides vaccination, how can I protect myself against the flu?

Essentially, you can use the same practices we have been using over the last 20 months for COVID-19. Wash your hands often, wear your mask indoors and in places outdoors where you cannot remain distanced from others and maintain physical distancing indoors and outdoors. Most importantly, do not go to work or send your kids to school if they have any symptom of the flu or COVID-19.

Q: If I get the flu shot and then a COVID-19 booster becomes available, will I be able to get it? ​What is the recommended interval between getting the COVID-19 vaccine and another vaccine?

Great question – a lot of people are asking this one! YES, you can get the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recently released a statement saying that, "COVID-19 vaccines may be given at the same time as, or any time before or after, other vaccines, including live, non-live, adjuvanted, and non-adjuvanted vaccines."

Q: Since the symptoms for flu and COVID-19 are similar, how can I tell what I have when I get sick?

The symptoms do overlap and it may be difficult to tell which virus you have without testing. If you develop symptoms, you should get tested for COVID-19. If that is negative, then you likely have the flu or one of the other commonly circulating cold viruses. You would not be tested for them unless you have severe symptoms requiring a visit to a hospital. You would simply be required to stay home until you have had no fever for 24 hours and your respiratory symptoms have significantly improved. If you were experiencing GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting, they need to be fully resolved for 48 hours to return to work.

Q: If I get the flu, what should I do?

Stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and catch up on Netflix! If you must go out, make sure you are diligent with mask use, you are physically distanced from others and wash your hands often.

Q: If I got the COVID-19 vaccine, am I already protected against the flu?

Unfortunately, you are not. The COVID-19 vaccine is specific to the SARS CoV-2 virus and the influenza virus requires its own vaccine to build antibodies specific to it. Many people may be tired of talking about v​accines, but getting this vaccine is very important – for you and for our community.

Q: Where can I get the flu shot?

Flu vaccines are available in a variety of community pharmacies, and your family doctor's office.

All members of TeamUHN are given the opportunity to get the flu shot from UHN Health Services. Stationary flu shot clinics will be set up from Oct. 27 to Nov. 18. TeamUHN members can book their individual flu shot with Health Services.

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