SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews invited journalists to witness her getting her flu shot on Monday, but only about 32 per cent of Ontarians chose to get vaccinated last year. The figures for Ottawa are higher — about 44 per cent of residents got the shot in 2011, according to Ottawa Public Health — but still, more than half of us didn’t.
“We think that some people are in general afraid of vaccines, so we like to remind people it’s a very safe vaccine,” said Riccardo Lucchini, a public health nurse working on Ottawa Public Health’s immunization campaign.
It’s also easier than ever to get the shot. In addition to the many family physicians who offer it, there are city-run flu shot clinics. Ottawa Public Health holds the first of the season this weekend, and will hold more than 30 around the city before the year is over.
The provincial health ministry has also authorized pharmacies to give flu shots for the first time, and Lucchini estimates that more than 55 Ottawa-area pharmacies will offer the vaccination this season.
Some of the reluctance to get the flu shot could in part be due to misconceptions about any adverse effects and fears of getting needles, according to Dr. Maher El-Masri, the research leadership chair in the University of Windsor’s faculty of nursing.
El-Masri says the vaccine is safe for everyone except those people with contraindications or egg allergies, and there are oral vaccines available for those who don’t like needles.
But practitioners of non-Western medicine have a somewhat different philosophy on flu prevention, and research looking at the effectiveness of flu vaccines also raises questions.
A systemic review published in July 2010 by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international network of health experts which reviews existing primary research and considered the gold standard when it comes to determining the quality of a study, assessed all the studies going back to 1966 that evaluate the effects of vaccines against influenza in healthy adults. Among the Cochrane reviewers’ conclusions was that influenza vaccines “have a modest effect” in reducing influenza symptoms and lost work days.
As well, the Cochrane review found that flu vaccination had no effect on hospital admissions or complication rates, and that studies of flu vaccines in adults funded by the drug industry were published in “more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size.”
Among the studies published on influenza vaccines, they wrote, “there is widespread manipulation of conclusions.”
Colleen McQuarrie, a doctor of naturopathic medicine who has been practising in Ottawa for 10 years, said she discusses the research on the effectiveness of the vaccine with her patients and they decide for themselves whether to take it. For those who don’t want the vaccine, she talks about strategies for “optimizing immune system function and mitigating the effects and duration of the influenza virus.”
Getting enough sleep, eating foods with the right nutrition to help the immune system produce antibodies (fatty fish is good for getting Vitamin D) and, yes, washing hands, are all part of the plan. McQuarrie also tells people to stay home when they do catch something so as not to pass it on.
McQuarrie also offers two homeopathic remedies to boost the immune system before cold and flu season: pascoeleucyn and oscillococcinum.
For a list of Ottawa Public Health flu clinics, visit: http://ottawa.ca/en/health_safety/conditions/flu_clinic/index.html
with files from Zev Singer of the Citizen and Beatrice Fantoni of the Windsor Star r.
WHAT IS THE FLU?
Influenza — or the flu — is a viral infection of the nose, throat and lungs.
The World Health Organization says there are three types of seasonal influenza (A, B and C) and numerous sub-types. Types A and B are the most common types.
Health Canada estimates that 10 to 25 per cent of Canadians get the seasonal flu each year and between 4,000 and 8,000 will die from it.
The flu is spread by an infected person through the air (talking, coughing, sneezing) and through infected surfaces. The virus stays active on a surface for up to 48 hours. A person can contract the flu from breathing in infected droplets, or touching an infected surface and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
The seasonal flu vaccine varies from year to year.
The WHO uses data from its Global Influenza Surveillance Network to predict what the three most prevalent strains of seasonal flu are circulating and recommends a vaccine composition that targets those.