November 16, 2018

With winter around the corner, more and more people will be getting sick with all kinds of illnesses, but mostly the flu. This makes getting a flu shot increasingly more important and, as the flu season approaches, the shot is gaining more popularity.

Pharmacist Duke Chen sits in his office at the Pioneer Park Plaza Shopper’s Drug Mart as he discusses the flu shot in Kitchener, Ont., Nov. 8, 2018. Photo by Sarah Gilder, Spoke News

Duke Chen, owner of the Pioneer Park Plaza Shoppers Drug Mart, says the popularity and effectiveness of the flu shot has gone up over the course of it being administered to the public.

At his Shoppers Drug Mart, the number of people who got the flu shot went up from 450 people the year before last to 700 people last year — an increase of about 55 per cent.

“[There was] quite a bit of an increase for our store. In Ontario West, there was an increase of about two per cent from last year and when I say two per cent that’s like 2,000 more shots,” Chen said. “But in our store we see a larger increase because of the new location and we try to make it really accessible.”

He explained that the store tries to shorten the wait times for people getting the flu shot so that it is more convenient for them. Chen sympathizes with families, such as those with two kids, for example, who all need the flu shot but would have to wait to get them. He says that they shouldn’t have to be made to wait.

“Adding extra staff so people come in — they never have to wait; they’ll just be taking it right away. In some cases, they have to wait 10 to 15 minutes We have dedicated staff just giving flu shots.”

But this year’s strain of the flu shot is different from last year’s. In fact, this flu shot has the ability to protect from four different kinds of the flu, unlike last year’s, which only had the ability to protect from three.

“So this year, it’s different from last year’s. Last year they gave the trivalent — the flu shot that covers three viruses, an extender for all the adults. But this year they made it quadrivalent, so it  actually covers four instead of three,” Chen said. ” A lot of decisions [go into] making what strain are we going to put in the flu shots, how effective is it going to be, because a lot of the time it is based on statistics, based on guessing.”

But in determining the strain of flu vaccine that they are going to manufacture, health experts actually look to a different country to determine what strain happened there before they decide what to do here.

“They look at the results from Australia, because they have their winter time ahead of us and, based on the results of Australia this year, the results were a lot better than last year’s. But then again,[there are] hundreds of viruses that can cause the illness; it can only protect against four. But then, theoretically, it should be better,” Chen said.

But they don’t just include the smaller and less harmful strains of the flu. The flu shot also covers some of the more worrisome and stronger strains of the flu that could seriously affect people and send them to the hospital.  

“[That includes] the H1N1, which caused a lot of attention last time. But it is still too early to tell if it is working or not. Usually they come out with some kind of statistics by January,” Chen said. 

Those administering the vaccines take precautions to people to ensure that they will remain healthy and that there are no complications.

“We try to ask every patient and, at the same time, ask if they had their pneumonia shots [and] the shingles shots, because they all can be taken at the same time for seniors. [That’s] the cheapest way to prevent the illness. Usually, with the flu shots, we ask [patients] to stay inside the store for 15 to 20 minutes, just to monitor if they have a reaction to it.”

As to those who believe the flu shot only makes them sick instead of keeping them healthy, Chen says there is no proof that the flu shot actually causes the flu.

“Definitely, there haven’t been any studies showing that flu shots cause any major illness, complications. Some people say that they got the flu from flu shots, which is not true because it is inactivated vaccine. There is no real virus in there.”

With that being said, Chen’s opinion on the flu shot haven’t been swayed by the documented cases of people who still get the flu even after they have their flu shot.

The flu shot, however, isn’t the only strategy when it comes to maintaining good health.

“We still want to raise awareness of good hand hygiene,” Chen said. “Washing your hands all the time, coughing into your arm and then, if you are feeling ill, stay at home, stay hydrated, rest. That would be the best way to prevent flu, along with the flu shot.”

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