Randeen Tomiak won’t miss her flu shot ever again.
The Prince Albert mother saw how devastating the flu virus can be last year when her daughter Blake contracted H1N1 influenza.
She was newly pregnant, and both Tomiak and Blake, 2, were fighting the flu.
“It was awful,” Tomiak said, minutes after receiving her flu shot at a Prince Albert clinic Tuesday morning.
“She was so sick and then I had found out I was pregnant and had H1N1 at the same time. If you’re a newly pregnant mom, it’s exhausting looking after a very sick child and also being sick yourself.”
Tomiak said the ordeal was tough on the family.
Blake was in and out of the hospital for over two weeks. Even then, though, her weakened immune system meant that the family was sick for the rest of the cough, cold and flu season.
“She was a lot sicker than we were,” Tomiak said.
“She would wake at a half-hour at a time and it would be hard to get her out of bed, which is unusual for a toddler. It was really alarming, the way she was responding. I’ve never seen a child that sick before. It was pretty scary.”
Tomiak hadn’t consciously chosen to skip the flu shot last year. Rather, the opportunity just passed her by.
“We were just really busy. We have really busy lifestyles,” she said.
“I think it’s something that came and went and we didn’t get around to it. It’s something that’s important to us now. I don’t think I’ll ever miss the flu shot again.”
Tomiak isn’t the only one encouraging people, especially those more vulnerable to influenza, to get their flu shots.
Dr. Julie Kryzanowski, a senior medical officer of health with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, made the trip to Prince Albert’s flu shot clinic Tuesday for the province’s influenza immunization campaign kickoff.
“We cannot predict what the future will hold or what this season will look like, but receiving an influenza vaccine is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones this flu season,” she said.
“We want to raise awareness about the influenza vaccine and the benefits it can offer, especially to those who are most at risk. That includes young children, the elderly, people who care for young children and the elderly as well as people who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk of either getting the flu or becoming very sick with the flu.”
Last year the province saw about 30 per cent of the population receive their flu vaccine, Kryzanowski said. That rate is higher for higher-risk populations.
“Even if you’re otherwise healthy adults, we still recommend that you consider getting the flu (shot) to protect yourself, your family and the people you care for,” she said.
Kryzanowski wasn’t able to provide a breakdown of flu vaccinations by geography, however, she said the Ministry of Health will be watching both immunization coverage rates and flu activity across the province.
While answering questions from reporters, Kryzanowski also took the time to dispel some of the more common myths surrounding the flu vaccine.
“Many people wonder whether the influenza vaccine can give you the flu. because its’ made with inactive virus or virus particles, it does not cause the flu,” she said.
The vaccine can cause some arm soreness, muscle aches and stiffness, she said, but the vaccine does not cause flu and offers some protection from getting sick during flu season.
Kryzanowksi also spoke about what the flu looks like — what people often refer to as stomach flu isn’t the influenza virus itself. Rather, bouts of vomiting, diahhrea and upset stomach are more likely to be what’s called gastroenteritis, caused by norovirus or Norwalk virus.
“Influenza is a respiratory illness. The common symptoms of flu are fever, muscle aches, headaches and respiratory symptoms like cough or runny nose,” she said.
“Sometimes people can get a stomach ache, nausea and vomiting are more common with children than with adults, but it really is a respiratory infection.”
She also emphasized that the flu vaccine doesn’t protect against everything.
“During the winter there are lots of viruses circulating, many different types of respiratory viruses, and the influenza vaccine doesn’t protect against everything that’s circulating. It does protect against strains of influenza a and influenza b that are circulating every year.”
The flu vaccine is available at public health clinics across the province, some doctor and nurse practitioner offices and in local pharmacies. Anyone 6 months and older can receive the vaccine, but children up to the age of five must be vaccinated at a public health clinic.
Prince Albert’s flu shot clinic will run Wednesday through Friday from 9 until 5:30 at the South Hill Mall and will run from 9 until 2 on Saturday. It will also run from 11:30 until 2 at City hall on Oct. 30, and again at the South Hill Mall on Nov. 2,5, 16 and 16, Dec. 13 and Jan. 10.
For more information or to find the nearest flu shot clinic, visit flu4u.ca.