Public health hoping for slow flu season
Last year’s vaccine was a poor match , but officials hope this year’s is more effective
WATERLOO REGION — The last flu season in Waterloo Region was busy and long.
“Last year was one of our busiest on record,” said David Aoki, manager of vaccine preventable diseases at Waterloo Region Public Health.
“The vaccine was not a good match for what was circulating.”
The 2017-18 season had the highest number of lab-confirmed cases on record at 492 and a high number of outbreaks at long-term-care and retirement homes, according to a recent regional report.
Unusually, both subtypes of influenza A and B circulated in the community for a sustained period of time, and then lingered into late spring.
That was compounded by the vaccine being relatively ineffective at only 38 per cent overall.
The three-strain flu shot given to adults last season didn’t include the B strain that was prevalent. Most A-strain cases were H3N2, which tends to affect people over 65, leading to many nursing home outbreaks.
This season, everyone over six months who gets the flu shot is getting the quadrivalent vaccine. Last year, it was given only to those under 18, and that had a good match for influenza B.
A high-dose vaccine is also available this year for people over 65. It contains more of the inactivated virus to give a bigger jolt to the immune system, which wanes with age.
“There’s more opportunity for your body to respond to it,” Aoki said. “Hopefully, they get more protection than a normal vaccine would provide.”
Last year, it was available but not publicly funded in Ontario. This season it is covered and available from family doctors. People are urged to talk to their doctor about which vaccine is best for them.
Aoki said it’s too soon to know for sure if this year’s vaccine will be a good match because the circulating strains aren’t yet clear. “It looks like it will be,” he said.
The H1N1 strain that was prevalent in the southern hemisphere is in the vaccine people are getting now.
Often there is a spike in vaccination rates following a busy flu season, Aoki said.
“It’s the best tool we have to prevent influenza.”