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Flu shots called cost effective

More people eligible for free vaccination than realize it

Have you checked to see if you are eligible for a free flu shot this year?

More people in Whistler are eligible for influenza immunizations provided by the provincial government than realize it, according to Viviana Zanocco, senior media relation’s officer for Vancouver Coastal Health.

In fact pretty much anyone from B.C. who is in regular contact with a senior, an infant, or someone who is chronically ill qualifies for a free dose.

“Let’s say your brother has asthma and you see him once a week, you could qualify for the flu shot,” said Zanocco.

“Or let’s say you have a little toddler, and your mom takes care of her every once in a while. She may not be a senior yet, but she is eligible for the flu shot,” she said.

Despite this, only 40 per cent of those who fall into the “chronic health care conditions and their household contacts” category actually receive the shot each year.

“There is never a shortage. We always have vaccine left over. Which is a huge problem, because we really want more people who are eligible to get the vaccine,” said Zanocco, adding that an 80 per cent vaccination rate is used as the gold-standard for flu immunizations.

Dr. Hugh Fisher from Northlands Medical Clinic agreed that it is important for those in Whistler to get immunized, adding that the flu virus may rear its head earlier in Whistler than other parts of Canada due to the town’s high transient population.

“My sense is that people come here early on in the season from places where they already have the flu. And we get a fairly big influx of people from around the world this time of year, and I think some of those people will undoubtedly have the flu when they arrive,” said Fisher.

“I think we see the flu, and then that gets spread out through the community into the neighbouring communities a little bit earlier than it might be coming through Vancouver,” he said.

Fisher added that even those who do not qualify under the B.C. government’s immunization program should consider getting vaccinated.

“A flu shot costs $25. And if you are in a job earning $25 per hour, and you miss a days work, you have more than paid for the flu shot,” he said.

The flu shot protects against three strains of the flu virus that the World Health Organization predicts will be the most active each winter. This year, those strains are A/Solomon Islands, A/Wisconsin, and B/Malaysia.

According to the regional medical health officer Dr. Paul Martiquet, a total of 19,000 doses have been ordered for the Coast Garibaldi region, up 300 from last year.

“We’ve been pretty good at being able to predict what strains are going to be circulating,” said Martiquet. “We look at what is happening in the southern hemisphere, and then what is coming from the east of us, so that is how we make a prediction on what three components will go into the vaccine,” he said.

Free flu shots for eligible recipients are available from the Whistler Health Care Centre on Nov. 15, 19, 30 and Dec. 30. Immunizations for those not deemed high risk are also available at various health care facilities around the town.