Wellbeing and the flu shot

Cartoon of person experiencing flu symptoms

                                                                Image: The flu: don't pass it on! (video)

Isn’t this a lovely time of year? The leaves are changing, the temperature is dropping, our noses start running…

… yes, you read that correctly.

Happy cold and flu season everyone!

As fall starts to shift to winter, you may notice your colleagues or classmates coughing and sneezing around the office or lecture hall. Maybe you up your hand washing, or head out to buy a cute little bottle of hand sanitizer (or if you’re me, a large bottle with a pump). Maybe you lock your office door and make people complete a swab before entering, or maybe you stay home all together. But we all know that these strategies, while important, are often no match to the germs at this time of year.

Most of us can handle a common cold – sometimes we are even able to push through and continue on with our daily lives – but catching the flu is a whole different story. Did you know that the flu is the eighth leading cause of death in Canada? The influenza virus is preventable, yet it is responsible for approximately 3500 deaths in Canada every year! Between 10% and 20% of Canadians are infected with the flu annually, but the virus is most dangerous to young children, older adults, and those living with chronic illness. Take a look:

Percentage of deaths in Canada caused by influenza and pneumonia, by year and age of death

 Source: Statistic Canada CANSIM table 102-0561

The chart shows us that Canadians between the ages of 15 and 64 are much less likely to die of illnesses like influenza or pneumonia, but what if I told you there is an important way for all of us to protect not only ourselves but also those around us? You probably guessed it – I am talking about the flu shot!

At the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, we view high flu shot rates as a marker of a healthy population, and we aren’t alone! Because of the risks associated with getting the flu, the World Health Assembly (WHA) recommended that by 2010, 75% of people age 75 and over living in Member States (that’s us here in Canada) receive the flu shot. Take a look and see whether or not Canada has achieved this goal:

Percentage of Canadians age 20 and over who recieved a flu shot less than one year ago, by age group and year

 Source: Statistics Canada CANSIM table 105-0501

As you can see, we haven’t quite achieved that 75% recommended by WHA, as even in 2014 only about 63% of the Canadian population age 65 and over had received a flu shot in the past year. And the numbers are even more staggering for Canadians between the ages of 20 and 64. We know how important the flu shot is, so what is holding Canadians back?

The Canadian Community Health Survey (2012) collected information on why Canadians are not getting the flu shot, and here is what they found:

Of Canadians who reported not having a flu shot in the past year…

  • 50% did not feel it was necessary
  • 11% simply had not gotten around to it
  • 2.4% were afraid
  • 1% did not know where to go to get the flu shot.

This season, we really encourage you to think about getting your flu shot. It is important for your health and the health of those around you. Not sure where to go? The Government of Canada has created a great interactive map that will help you find your closest flu shot provider. Check it out!

OH! And if you are looking for more information on the flu, the flu shot, or other illnesses and vaccines, of course there is an app for that!

So there you have it! And while you are waiting in line for your flu shot, please ponder this:

What can you do to help educate your community about the importance of the flu shot? Tell us your ideas @ciwnetwork or on  Facebook and please share this post with your friends, family, and colleagues.

Stay well, folks!

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