FREDERICTON (GNB) – New Brunswickers are encouraged to get their free flu shot to stay healthy and reduce hospitalizations this flu season.

“While we make our way through the pandemic waiting for a vaccine for COVID-19, there is a vaccine for the seasonal flu,” said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard. “This year, our government has added $1.5 million to our provincial vaccination program so that all New Brunswickers have access to free flu shots to protect themselves and their families. This is necessary to reduce hospitalizations due to complications from the seasonal flu, which would strain our health care system as we prepare for a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases.”

Seasonal influenza typically poses serious health risks to the elderly, the very young, and those with weakened immune systems or other chronic health conditions.

This season, a quadrivalent influenza vaccine that provides protection against four different influenza viruses will be offered to individuals age six months and older and to residents of long-term care facilities who are under the age of 65.

“Immunization is an important part of keeping New Brunswickers healthy, working, in school and out of hospital,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health. “I encourage everyone to get their free flu shot to protect themselves, their family and those members of our community who are the most at risk of complications. We all have a role to play to keep healthy this flu season and especially this year during the pandemic.”

Due to a limited availability of supply, only individuals aged 65 and older living in long-term care facilities, including licensed nursing homes and adult residential facilities, will be offered the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine, which contains four times the standard dose vaccine to give older people living in these settings a stronger immune response and provide better protection against influenza.

Each year, the strains of seasonal influenza viruses change. As a result, the flu vaccine also needs to change to ensure it protects against the current viruses. That is why people need to get a flu shot every year.

“Physicians urge New Brunswickers to get the flu shot every year and this year it is more important than ever,” said Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society. “Immunization is our best defence against influenza. As we see cases of COVID-19 rising across Canada, we must all do our part to keep our health system prepared for a potential second wave of the virus in our province. Immunization against influenza is an important part of those efforts.”

“New Brunswickers stepped up to flatten the COVID curve. Pharmacists urge them to do their part again now by getting a flu shot that will help protect themselves, their families and their communities against influenza,” said Christine Boudreau, a Shediac pharmacist and president of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association. “During this pandemic, New Brunswickers need to do everything they can to keep themselves healthy and to lessen the strain on our healthcare system. Let’s do this New Brunswick – get your flu shot.”

The seasonal influenza vaccine is available from a variety of providers including family doctors and nurse practitioners, midwives, nurses working in various health care settings such as hospitals and nursing homes, and public health. Participating pharmacies provide flu shots for anyone five years of age or older.

“The flu should not be underestimated as it leads to hospitalizations and deaths every year,” said Russell. “The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is through immunization and living a healthy lifestyle.”

People at increased risk for influenza-associated complications such as pneumonia are also encouraged to speak with their care provider to see if they are eligible to get the pneumococcal vaccine in addition to the influenza vaccine.

Everyone is reminded to wash their hands often, cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of their arm and stay at home if they are sick and wear a mask if unable to physically distance themselves.

In 2019-20, New Brunswick had more than 2,350 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza, 268 influenza-related hospitalizations including 43 patients admitted to the intensive care units, and 11 deaths due to illness associated with influenza.

More information is available online, or by contacting your health-care provider.