You may be thinking about getting vaccinated against the flu this year. Considering that 10% to 20% of Canadians will be affected by the influenza virus each year, that's not a bad idea.

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization advises all Canadians over age 6 months to get a flu shot. That's because vaccination is one of the most effective preventive measures you could take. And with the "shot in the arm" that a vaccine can give, you're less likely to be one of the 12,200 hospitalizations or 3,500 deaths blamed on the flu each year.

Still, you may be unsure. Perhaps answers to a few questions might make your decision easier:

Should I be vaccinated against the seasonal flu this year? Probably yes - except for those 6 months of age or younger or if you have had severe reactions to the vaccination in the past. If neither of those applies to you, you should definitely be vaccinated if you fall into particular risk categories:

  • young children between 6 months and 5 years of age
  • people who are 65 or older
  • pregnant women
  • anyone with chronic diseases such as heart or lung disease (e.g., asthma or COPD), kidney disease, diabetes or other metabolic disorder, anemia, cancer, or HIV or other immune-suppression diseases
  • children and adolescents (6 months to 18 years old) who require chronic ASA therapy or with neurological conditions such as seizure disorders
  • people who live in a nursing home or care facility
  • people at high risk of complications who travel to areas where flu virus is circulating
  • people who are morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or greater)
  • Aboriginal peoples
  • people who have direct contact during culling operations involving poultry infected with avian influenza
  • people who are capable of transmitting the virus to those at high risk, such as health care providers, caregivers, and childcare providers.
  • people who provide essential services to the community such as police officers

The injectable flu shot (but not the nasal spray) has been shown to be safe for many people with egg allergies. Your doctor will need to assess whether you should have a flu shot if you are allergic to eggs. Be sure to tell your health care provider about this and any other allergies you may have before you are given your flu shot.

Does the seasonal flu vaccine really work? About 70% to 90% of healthy people who get a flu shot will be protected from the virus. Those who still get the flu usually get milder symptoms. After being injected with the vaccine, it can take a couple of weeks to take effect. If you catch a flu virus in that wait period you won't be protected.

When should I get vaccinated? You could get a flu shot at any time during flu season between November and April. But because of the time needed for the vaccine to take effect, you should get the vaccination early before the peak infection time. Ask your health care provider when is the best time for you to get the seasonal flu shot.

How much will I have to pay for a seasonal flu shot?All provinces and territories except for British Columbia, Quebec, and New Brunswick offer all their residents aged 6 months or older free vaccines. However, for those 3 provinces, people who are at high risk of getting complications from the flu may be able to get the vaccine for free. Check with your doctor to determine whether you are eligible for a free flu shot. In most doctors' offices and clinics, flu shots will cost about $10 to $15.

Is there any risk involved in getting a seasonal flu shot? The benefits of prevention outweigh the risks with a flu shot. Rarely, people will experience allergic reaction. More often, they will experience no side effects or perhaps soreness, redness, or swelling at the spot where the shot was given. Contrary to myth, a flu shot cannot cause the flu, since it never contains any live virus.

Will I need to be vaccinated again? Flu shot requirements change every year as new strains of influenza virus emerge. More than 100 influenza centres are involved in over 100 countries to help the World Health Organization make recommendations to different countries. Then each country makes their own decisions about which viruses to include in the vaccine. To help protect yourself against new flu strains, it is important to get re-vaccinated every year.

Amy Toffelmire

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