Nurses Pinder Bains, (L), and Stephanie Singh are among those who will be delivering flu shots to members of TeamUHN over the next few weeks as part of UHN's Annual Flu Campaign. (Photo: UHN)

After taking a backseat to COVID-19 for the past two years, the flu is back in full-swing.

And this year, cases may be higher than normal, says Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infectious diseases and infection control physician with UHN Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC), which is teaming up with UHN Health Services to offer flu vaccines to members of TeamUHN.

But here's the good news.

"All the things that we were doing to prevent the spread of COVID – wearing masks, social distancing, not coming to work ill – are the same things that slowed down the flu," Dr. Vaisman says.

Now that many day-to-day practices are returning to normal, it's inevitable that the flu is rearing its head once again.

To combat the spread of the flu, Dr. Vaisman advises continuing to practice measures such as washing your hands, masking, and especially staying home if you feel sick.

Additionally, getting your flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and patients from serious illness.

To bring you peace of mind and one step closer to getting your shot, UHN News sat down with Dr. Vaisman to bust five of the most common myths surrounding the flu.

Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine will protect me against the flu.

While we might all hope for this to be true, Dr. Vaisman says it is nothing but wishful thinking.

"As far as we know, there is no evidence to support this claim," he says.

COVID-19 and the flu are viruses from different families with different genetic makeups. In other words, their respective vaccine is targeted towards the specific virus, meaning there is no cross-targeted protection. Flu vaccine to flu, COVID-19 vaccine to COVID-19.

People are encouraged to get their flu vaccine as well as their COVID-19 booster shots. You do not have to wait any amount of time between receiving the vaccines. You can get both vaccines at the same time, but if you've felt post-vaccination symptoms after receiving either vaccine you may choose to space them out.

Determine when you are eligible for a COVID-19 booster.

Guidance around the concurrent administration of flu and COVID-19 vaccines. (Summary: In adults, COVID-19 vaccines may be given at the same time as, or any time before or after, other vaccines, including live, non-live, adjuvanted or unadjuvanted vaccines.)

Myth: You don't need to get the flu shot every year.

Flu strains are constantly changing, meaning the flu vaccine changes too. Staying up to date on your flu shot increases your immunity against the virus and gives you a leg up on protecting yourself against this year's strain.

Getting your flu shot is also an important way to prevent the spread to patients.

"As staff, we do our best to protect patients," says Dr. Vaisman. "One of the safest and simplest ways do to that is to get vaccinated."

Bonus: if the strain is similar to last year, you may get some degree of boosting from repeated vaccination, adds Dr. Vaisman.

Myth: "I was vaccinated but I still got the flu, so the vaccine doesn't work."

Getting the flu vaccine is likely to protect you this flu season and beyond. However, like most vaccines, it is not perfect.

The flu virus mutates, creating new strains that circulate every year. Flu vaccines are tailored to match these strains and are most effective when they're a closer match to what's circulating in the community.

While getting the shot may not guarantee that you'll dodge the flu this year, decades of experience with the vaccine can be up to 60 per cent effective. Plus, evidence shows that even if you get the flu after getting your vaccine, your illness will be milder.

Myth: Pregnant women shouldn't get the flu vaccine.

The opposite is true of this common flu misconception. The flu vaccine is not only entirely safe for pregnant people, it is strongly encouraged by virtually every health agency.

Those who are pregnant are more likely to experience severe outcomes compared with non-pregnant people.

By getting your flu shot, you're also protecting your baby, says Dr. Vasiman. Babies can't get a flu vaccine until six months after birth, so your protection against the flu will extend to your little one.

Myth: Healthy people can't get seriously ill from the flu.

While the overall mortality of the flu is low, that doesn't necessarily mean young people are in the clear from experiencing serious illness.

Unlike COVID, which has showed increased mortality with age, the flu tends to hit those at the extremes of age at increased rates. However, other populations – including pregnant people, those who are immunocompromised, and people with chronic conditions – can also be most at risk.

By getting your flu shot, you protect yourself and those who are most at risk from serious infection.


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