Two shots are free and people are encouraged to get them together; 'It’s primarily just to save time,' says local pharmacist

Every year, right around this time, it starts — the sneezing, the sniffling, the runny nose and the aching bones.

Welcome to flu (and COVID and respiratory syncytial virus) season, the least wonderful time of the year.

After spending the past few months inflicting pain and misery on folks living in the southern hemisphere, this season’s flu bugs have finally made their way to North America where cooler temperatures are forcing humans inside, creating the perfect environment for optimum transmission, health officials say.

“There’s two things that make this time of year flu season,” said Craighurst pharmacist Brad Bochek. “First, flu is just getting here from other areas of the world like Australia, for example. Flu season there is more like August to October. We see that transmission coming to us right now.

“Second, it’s the time of year when we segregate indoors. Thanksgiving just happened, tomorrow is Halloween. There's a lot more touching and sharing right now," he added. "As we tighten up and get closer together, the spread gets bigger.”

To keep the spread in check, Bochek, along with other pharmacists across the province, kicked off the annual public flu awareness campaign on Monday, the first day when flu shots became officially available to all eligible Ontario residents. 

According to Bochek, the World Health Organization maps out various flu viruses throughout the world and tries to create a vaccine to match what’s going on elsewhere. When that virus eventually turns up in North America, there’s a vaccine ready to fight it, he says.

Pharmacists are also promoting the value of getting a COVID booster and a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine, if you’re in a high risk group.

Bochek said the RSV vaccine is targeted to folks over 65 whose health may be compromised and, in some cases, very young individuals with small lung capacity — six months to three years old — if they are compromised or have any pre-conditions

Bochek says the RSV vaccine is not for the general population and it is not covered by the Ministry of Health. An RSV vaccine costs $300 and you have to have it prescribed by a doctor.

The flu vaccine and the COVID vaccine are free and people are encouraged to get them together, Bochek added.

The reason has little to do with health.

“It’s primarily just to save time,” Bochek said. “A pharmacy is the easiest access point to get your vaccines, so if you can come in and get both at the same time, it saves you time and you have it all covered at once.”

Over the past couple of years, the public has become more flu and COVID aware, he said, "more so than ever before. So, it’s the same type of precautions — if you’re out in tight spaces, you may want to use the mask. If you’re out in public, try and keep your hands clean and wash them thoroughly when you get home.”

Increasing personal safety reduces the risks of passing viruses on to others, especially those at risk, like the elderly and the very young, Bochek added. 

“It’s important all year round to be vigilant, but more so during flu season,” he said. “If you’re going to see Grandma in the retirement home, wear the mask.”

If you’re feeling a little run down and you think you might be getting something, Bochek said you’re best off to visit a health-care professional.

If that’s not an option, he suggests you pay close attention to the symptoms, because they’re different.

“With RSV, you’ll notice shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing — things you may not notice as much with the flu,” Bochek said. “With COVID, you might notice taste disturbances or headaches.

"Flu is basically the body aches and could be accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting," he added. "Those are indications that are not common with the other two viruses.”

To book your flu and COVID vaccines, call your local pharmacy.

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