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Vaccines: the ‘routine’ ones you don’t want to miss

Getting immunized against influenza and pneumonia reduces your risk of contracting these potentially deadly illnesses
intramuscular needle injection syringe arm
Influenza and pneumonia vaccines can help reduce the risk of severe illness this fall and winter, particularly for people who more susceptible, like those over 65.

Getting vaccinated is a safe, simple way to protect you and your family from getting sick. The first vaccines were invented over 200 years ago and were used against diseases like smallpox and rabies. Today, dozens of vaccines are available for use in Canada. Modern vaccines can protect us from a variety of diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. Since many of these diseases can be life-threatening, getting vaccinated is an important step towards staying healthy.

Most of us are now familiar with the vaccines against COVID-19. While they are relatively new, they are based on many years of research on similar types of viruses. Thus far, these new vaccines have proven themselves very effective against the virus that causes COVID-19. To date, over 86 per cent of Manitobans aged 12 and up have received at least one dose of this vaccine, and over 6 billion doses have been given globally. By getting the COVID-19 vaccine, we can keep ourselves healthy and protect our families from getting sick.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not the only vaccine you should get this year. As we enter the fall and early winter months, the number of viral and bacterial respiratory infections tends to rise. To protect yourself from these infections, there are a couple of vaccines you should consider:

The first is the seasonal influenza, or “flu” vaccine. Influenza is a virus that infects your airways. People who catch the flu often experience fever, sore throat, and cough. However, influenza can also cause more severe illness. During the 2019-20 influenza season, over 400 people in Manitoba were hospitalized and at least 29 deaths were reported from the flu. Like COVID, the flu spreads from person to person by small droplets. To prevent catching and spreading influenza, the flu shot is offered every fall to Manitobans 6 months of age and older. This free vaccine is updated annually to provide protection from the most common influenza viruses spreading that year. For the best protection, you should get the flu shot every year. 

The second vaccine to consider is the pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine. This vaccine protects against bacteria called pneumococcus, which can cause infections in the lungs, sinuses, bloodstream, and even the brain. Often these infections cause mild symptoms, like the flu. However, this infection can also cause severe illness. Pneumonia is one of the top 10 reasons people visit the hospital in Canada and is a leading cause of death. To prevent pneumonia, all Manitobans 65 years and older can get the pneumonia vaccine for free. Certain individuals younger than 65 at higher risk of acquiring this illness due to certain medical conditions should also be immunized. The current shot, called “Pneumovax” protects against 23 types of pneumonia. 

While these vaccines are good for everyone, they are strongly recommended for people who are at higher risk. People who are older, have chronic medical conditions like diabetes or different chronic lung conditions, or other health issues are more likely to become very sick if infected with the flu on pneumonia. If you fall into this category, these vaccines are extra important to keep you safe. 

Getting your vaccine is easy. Talk to your healthcare provider and read the news or listen to the radio to find out about local vaccine clinics. For flu, pneumococcal and COVID-19 clinics in the Northern Health Region, please check out the NHR’s website at www.northernhealthregion.com. Information on upcoming clinics are also shared on their Facebook page @northernhealthregion 

If you are thinking of getting the COVID-19 shot as well, there is no longer a waiting period between getting the COVID shot and other vaccines. While it is common to have some localized discomfort after getting any injection, you cannot catch pneumonia or the flu from these shots.

Washing our hands, wearing masks while indoors and practising physical distancing are all good ways to help prevent the spread of infections. Along with these practices, getting vaccinated remains one of the easiest, most important things you can do to prevent the spread of disease. Remember, we all have a role to play in keeping ourselves and our families safe this year.