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Step right up, get your free flu shots in the Comox Valley — if you qualify

ROBERT MARSHALL, 75, receives his annual flu shot from public health nurse Amber Thomas in Courtenay. - Renee Andor
ROBERT MARSHALL, 75, receives his annual flu shot from public health nurse Amber Thomas in Courtenay.
— image credit: Renee Andor

The Filberg Centre in Courtenay was packed with people Monday as free flu shot clinics began in the Comox Valley.

"The influenza vaccine is the most effective strategy we have to prevent the spread of influenza, and while it's not perfect, it is the most effective," says Dr. Charmaine Enns, Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) medical health officer for the North Island.

Enns added people at-risk of severe disease and complications from the virus and people who come into regular contact with people deemed at-risk can receive the immunization free each year.

According to a VIHA news release, free flu shots are provided to the following groups:

• People 65 years of age and over and their caregivers;

• Children and adults with chronic health conditions and their household contacts;

• Health care workers;

• Emergency responders;

• Healthy children aged six to 59 months (up to five years);

• Household contacts and caregivers of infants and children under five years;

• Pregnant women who will be in their third trimester during the influenza season;

• Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities;

• Owners and operators of poultry farms;

• Aboriginal people;

• People who are very overweight (those with a body mass index of 40 or greater);

• Corrections officers and inmates in provincial correctional institutions;

• Those who provide care or service in potential outbreak settings housing high-risk persons (e.g. crew on ships).

Enns notes there are no signs as to how bad this flu season will be.

"If we see the southern hemisphere experiencing problems or other places in the northern hemisphere having an early start to the flu season, that helps give us a pretty good idea that we should expect the same," says Enns. "But so far, globally, things have actually been quite quiet and we have nothing to help us predict at this point and time.

"We don't have any negative information out there to say we're in for a bad year, but in saying that, we never know how that year is going to go until it's behind us."

She points out an example about seven years ago when there was a very quiet flu season all through the fall and winter months, but outbreaks occurred in May.

According to VIHA, pneumonia is the most common complication, especially in the elderly, and healthy adults who come into contact with people at-risk should get the shot, particularly because influenza is easily transmitted from person to person even before any symptoms are present.

There's a drop-in clinic at the Cumberland Seniors Centre (2674 Dunsmuir Ave.)  form 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, one on Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1111 Northwest Road on Denman Island, one from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Comox Recreation Centre (1855 Noel Ave.), and another at the Florence Filberg Centre (411 Anderton Ave.) in Courtenay from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Monday.

More clinics will be held through to early November. Visit www.viha.ca/flu for the full schedule.

Anyone receiving a shot should bring their CareCard or other government-issued identification and wear a short-sleeved shirt. Alternatively, eligible individuals can get their free vaccine from their doctor or a pharmacy.

New this year, all B.C. health care workers must be immunized or wear a mask during patient interactions.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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