Flu season 'imminent' in B.C., experts warn while urging vaccination

For nearly two years, health care professionals have been urging people to take precautions against the coronavirus. But there’s another respiratory illness people should also be mindful of: influenza.

Port Coquitlam pharmacist Ajit Johal, who is also clinical director of Immunize.co, a non-profit that aims to improve education and access to vaccination in the province, is concerned people will not take the flu seriously this year.

“I think the complacency sets in after last year's influenza season, where we saw record low levels of transmission. So we don't want people to think that that virus has gone away,” Johal said. “We have to be very mindful that influenza, like many other diseases, is very unpredictable, so being low one season and high the next.”

He said there was a “mad dash” for the flu shot at the start of the season last October and November, but that demand tapered off.

He’s hoping to see the same enthusiasm this season.

The flu shot may be even more necessary this year, as some doctors are already seeing other respiratory viruses -- like parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial and rhinovirus -- in the community.

“I’m worried that as we start going out, schools are open, economy is open, there's more interaction between people and we may see a much stronger flu season, which may result in a ‘twindemic’ of COVID and the flu,” said Dr. Ran Goldman, a pediatrician and UBC professor.

Goldman said thousands of Canadians die from flu complications each year and it is important to reduce those complications by getting immunized against the virus.

“It's imminent; it's coming," Goldman said, adding that the best thing the public can do is get vaccinated.

“We have to continue (to) listen to public health. Those measures have helped tremendously, both with COVID and the flu."

Unlike the COVID-19 vaccines, flu vaccines are eligible for anyone six months and older, and Goldman urges parents to take their children to get the shot.

Meanwhile, Johal said people can get both a COVID-19 vaccine, whether it is the first or second dose, and the flu vaccine at the same visit.

Health care professionals expect the flu shot will be available in the coming weeks.