Ottawa's top doctor says Ottawa Public Health is prepared for influenza season but hopes the measures in place meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 will also limit the spread of the flu.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, said OPH is working with its partners, including pharmacies and doctor's offices, to ensure there is a ready supply of flu vaccines, as she expects demand to be high this season.
"We understand that the province has purchased more flu vaccine than usual and we have, in planning our local approach, anticipated that we will need to meet an increased demand for the vaccine with more capacity to immunize," Dr. Etches said. "So, that is how we're planning with our health care partners—the pharmacies that immunize, primary care providers and our public health team that does a small portion for children under age five."
However, Dr. Etches said she is also hopeful that things like physical distancing, mask use, handwashing, and isolating when feeling ill, will help reduce the impact of influenza on the health care system.
"We, actually, are quite hopeful that there will be less spread of influenza this year because of all the distancing and mask-wearing and handwashing that is happening and people staying home when they're sick," she said. "The Australian experience was wonderful in this regard. They had much less influenza circulating than usual and so I expect that to really be our situation, too, as long as we keep up these good measures."
Australia reported dramatically reduced numbers of lab-confirmed infections if influenza this past July, as well as a 150 per cent increase in immunizations. South Africa, Chile and New Zealand also reported similar trends.
Influenza has not disappeared altogether. A WHO report says that while "globally, influenza activity was reported at lower levels than expected for this time of year," sporadic cases are still being reported.
Last flu season, Ottawa saw 852 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza and three confirmed deaths from the disease between Sept. 1, 2019 and April 11, 2020, according to data from Ottawa Public Health.
Dr. Brigitte Pinard, the acting director of public health for the Outaouais region of Quebec, echoed Dr. Etches' comments that they expect an increased demand for influenza vaccination this fall and winter.
"The major change we should see in the coming months is an emphasis on vaccinating people where they live and where they go for their medical care," she said. "We're going to put more emphasis on vaccinating people in long-term care facilities and seniors' homes."
Dr. Pinard said the want to avoid large gatherings of people getting vaccines.
"The overall campaign should be more decentralized in terms of delivery to reach people where they are," she said.
With files from CTV's Avis Favaro.