Time to get up to date with COVID-19 and flu vaccines

December 11, 2023

With the holiday season fast approaching, Niagara Region Public Health and Niagara Health are encouraging everyone to get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines to protect themselves from serious illness.

Cases of COVID-19 and Influenza are high across Ontario, Niagara included, and infections are expected to peak during the holiday season. As it can take up to two weeks for vaccines to provide protection against the viruses, now is the time to get the shots.

“While anyone can get really sick from viruses like COVID-19, the flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), we know there are vulnerable people in our community, such as children, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, who are more at risk,” said Niagara Region Public Health’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Azim Kasmani.

Niagara Health hospitals continue to see increased levels of COVID-19, RSV and influenza, said Dr. Karim Ali, Niagara Health’s Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control.

“It is imperative that those who qualify, update their vaccines to help prevent the spread of these viruses,” he said. “COVID and influenza vaccines can prevent serious illness in high-risk individuals.”

Ali said ICU (intensive care unit) admissions for COVID-19 have remained stable, a fact he attributes to immunity from vaccines and previous infection. That’s another reason vaccination is so important, he said.

“We have seen first-hand that vaccinations are effective in reducing the seriousness of these viruses in most people, leading to fewer hospitalizations,” he said.

This year’s flu strain is quite severe, he said, noting there have already been two young adult patients admitted to the ICU due to complications related to influenza infections.

Currently pharmacies and health care providers are offering flu and COVID-19 vaccines, while Niagara Region Public Health is offering COVID-19 vaccines. The RSV vaccine is currently approved for adults aged 60 years and older, and more information on eligibility and how to get the vaccine is available on the Ministry of Health’s website.

COVID-19 vaccines may be given at the same time as, or any time before or after, the flu shot. Everyone six months of age and older is recommended to get the XBB COVID-19 vaccine as long as it has been six months since they were last vaccinated or infected with COVID-19.

Along with getting vaccinated, everyone is encouraged to use “layers of protection” to help lower the risk of getting and spreading infection. These layers include:

· Staying home if you’re sick

· Cleaning your hands often

· Spending time outdoors or in well-ventilated indoor spaces

· Practicing respiratory etiquette by covering coughs and sneezes

· Wearing a mask

“By using layers of protection, we not only help protect ourselves, but also those at risk of a severe outcomes, such as hospitalization or even death, from getting infected,” Kasmani said.

Ali added that Niagara Health has infection prevention and control measures in place at its sites and has started its annual flu vaccine campaign for high-risk patients and staff and physicians.

More information about vaccines, and where to get them, can be found on the Public Health website.

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