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The most effective way of protecting yourself from the flu is by getting the flu shot each year. A new vaccine is developed annually based on the three strains of influenza which are predicted to be the most prevalent that year. The vaccine works by introducing a small amount of inactivated influenza virus into our body allowing our immune system to build an army of antibodies to the virus. If we are then exposed to the live virus, our immune system sends the antibodies to “attack” the foreign invader, preventing an infection from developing.
Unfortunately, sometimes the unexpected happens, as was the case this flu season. The influenza strain that ended up being the most widespread this year was not one of the three strains contained in the vaccine, so there were many cases of people getting sick – even those who did get vaccinated. Naturally, people are concerned about the effectiveness of the flu shot and have doubts about whether they should get the vaccine again.

Here are some points to consider when making your decision to get immunized next flu season:

1. Extensive research is done each year to make the decision about which three strains will be included in the vaccine. Generally, the predictions are very accurate and the vaccine prevents many thousands of people from becoming ill each year. However, we need to remember that the annual flu vaccine does not protect against all strains of the influenza virus, so there is a chance that someone could become infected with another strain.

2. We need to understand that what happened this year was unusual. This season, the virus essentially ‘outsmarted’ us. It was determined that the main viral strain mutated, leaving the vaccine less effective than expected. This mutation meant that the virus changed in such a way that the antibodies our immune system had developed after receiving the vaccine, were not able to mount a very effective response to infection by the live virus.

3. The flu vaccine CANNOT give you the flu. The components of the vaccine are inactivated influenza viral particles – meaning only pieces of the killed virus are present and are not able to cause infection.

4. Immunity from the flu shot is not immediate. It takes about 14 days for our immune system to develop antibodies to the strains contained in the vaccine. During this lag period, it is possible to develop an infection if contact with the virus occurs during the first two weeks after vaccination.

5. It is recommended that everyone over the age of 6 months be immunized each year. Not only can it protect you from becoming very sick, but it can help to protect those around you, by reducing the spread of the virus. Furthermore, if you do come down with the flu after receiving the vaccination, the infection will likely be less severe and may not last as long.

6. Vaccines – including the flu vaccine – do NOT cause developmental disorders like autism. People have become very concerned with the idea that thimerosal (a preservative used in some vaccines) is linked to the development of autism in children, but there is no evidence of this being true. However, there are flu vaccines available that do not contain thimerosal if you still have concerns.

6. It is beneficial to get the flu shot at any point during flu season; not only at the beginning. Also, it is a good idea to get vaccinated even if you have already had the flu that season as the infection may have been caused by a different strain.

Although the flu vaccine is the most important form of protection from the flu virus, people must remember that hand hygiene is also a key component to preventing the spread of infection. Washing hands thoroughly and often, using hand sanitizer when washing is not possible, and staying home if you have flu-like symptoms to avoid spreading the virus to others.
Influenza can be a serious illness for many people, especially children, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised, but the flu vaccine is important for everyone. It helps to protect yourself and those around you from potentially becoming very ill. If you have more questions about the flu vaccine, please talk to your pharmacist.

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As a result of new regulations governing the practice of pharmacy in Ontario, pharmacists are now able to be more deeply involved in your medications and management of your medical conditions. The new regulations came into effect last October allowing pharmacists to make use of their unique knowledge. This is great news for both pharmacists and you, their patients. It will allow pharmacists to be an even more integral part of your medication management and it will provide you with greater convenience as pharmacists are easily accessible in the community.

There are five main areas that these changes will affect:

  1. Pharmacists can prescribe several effective medications to help you quit smoking. Patients who may wish to try this method of quitting can now be assessed by their pharmacist – who will use their professional judgement to decide if it is right for you. This means that you will not have to wait to see your doctor in order to get on the path to becoming smoke-free and the pharmacist can be involved throughout this sometimes difficult process.
  1. Pharmacists may be able to renew your prescriptions without you having to see your doctor first. Your condition and your medications must be stable. For example, this may apply to patients who have well-managed chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. (This new regulation does not apply to narcotics and similar substances and does not eliminate the need to see your doctor for proper followup and monitoring).
  2. Pharmacists may also make certain changes/ adaptations to your doctor’s prescription if necessary based on professional judgement. For example, they may change the dosage form (tablet/capsule/liquid) or they could alter the dosing regimen and possibly even the dose to suit you better. As always, any changes would be done with your consent and the pharmacist would share them with your doctor.
  1. Pharmacists can now be of even greater assistance in helping to demonstrate how to use your devices. If you are a patient who uses an inhaler or has self-administered injections, your pharmacist can now use the real device to show you how to use it, rather than using a model one. Pharmacists who are able to administer injections in order to teach you how to use them have completed a training program.
  1. Specially trained pharmacists can administer the flu vaccine to patients five years and older. This will provide patients with more locations and greater ease of access to the vaccine.

As usual, your pharmacist will make these decisions based on your specific situation, so it is very important to give them as much information about yourself as you can. They need to know about all of the medications you are taking, including anything over-the-counter or any vitamins/minerals that you use. Also it is important to talk to your pharmacist about your lifestyle (eg. the foods you eat and the exercise you do) so they can get the full picture in order to make the best decisions for you

Pharmacists have always been a wonderful source of information and support for patients regarding how to best manage their medicines and their medical conditions. Now that the role of pharmacists has expanded to allow them to have more involvement with their patients, it will be easier than ever for patients to maintain good control of their conditions and medications. 

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