This fall, Alberta Health Services faced a new hurdle in convincing the public to get flu shots.
Two seasonal flu vaccines sold in Canada under the brand names Fluad and Agriflu were yanked from distribution in late October by the manufacturer.
The shots were suspended from use in flu vaccination clinics by Health Canada while the federal agency investigated potential concerns arising from Europe, where white particulate matter was found floating in one batch of the vaccine.
However, within a few days, AHS cleared the vaccines again for use in clinics in the province.
But the confusion has added to the usual reluctance of some to get the shot, and unfounded fears that being immunized may actually give a person the flu.
Despite the doubts, many people have lined up for their flu shot. Some 50,000 Calgarians have already been immunized this fall, a considerable increase compared to last year, according to AHS.
Lewis Clark, a SAIT automotive student, isn’t one of them.
“It doesn’t work at all. I’ve gotten that shot for two years in a row and I am still sick,” he says.
Jason Mills, a second-year bachelor of history major at Mount Royal University, doesn’t think the shot does any good.
“I haven’t had my shot this year. I have had it regularly in the past, but stopped due to the fact that it does, literally, nothing,” he said.
With the fall semester in full swing, many SAIT students are feeling flu like symptoms instead of the usual middle of term, post-midterm test excitement.
Although AHS offers free seasonal immunization, students will often forget, or avoid, their annual shot.
According to the AHS website, influenza viruses’ change, and each year.
The World Health Organization identifies the strains of influenza expected to circulate, and the influenza vaccine is then developed to protect against these strains.
Alberta Health Services also warns that you need to get immunized every year to be protected, as the immunity received the previous year will fade over time.
In Calgary, there are six designated clinics for receiving the influenza shot, most of them open daily. They will accept drop-in patients.
While there are many advocates of the flu shot, the health departments and vaccine manufacturers for example, there are also many critics.
Sheila Morgan, a human resource assistant with the AHS, said, “Flu shots are an effective way to prevent the spread of the flu virus. Prevention is a great first step.”
In Canada, all vaccines must go through a rigorous testing process, and they must meet stringent safety standards, before receiving approval from Health Canada.
Every year, between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die of the flu and associated complications, according to Health Canada.
If more unvaccinated people get the flu and spread it to high-risk contacts the number of flu related deaths may go much higher.
The most common concern is the possibility of catching influenza via the shot but according to the AHS, the influenza vaccine does not contain live viruses, therefore it cannot cause influenza.
Even in the face of a decline of patients in emergency rooms, influenza outbreaks lessening and improvements to the access of the shot, students are still not convinced.
“My girlfriend hasn’t received a single flu shot, she hasn’t been sick once this year or last. This is my fourth cold since the summer. They won’t stick me again,” said Clark.