As Saskatchewan public health gears up for its annual flu vaccine rollout, new survey results indicate almost half of Saskatchewan residents likely won’t be getting any jabs this fall because of “vaccine fatigue.”
The annual fall immunization campaign began on Tuesday, with Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab sitting for a flu and COVID-19 booster shot in Regina.
“I encourage everyone to get their vaccines together,” he said, after his vaccination.
“It’s convenient, it’s effective and by doing so, we keep ourselves safe, we keep our friends and family safe, and we reduce pressure on the healthcare system.”
Anyone over the age of six months can now book an appointment or walk-in at a local pharmacy, medical practitioner’s office or one of the 500 local public health clinics planned across the province, to receive a flu shot and COVID-19 booster, separately or at the same time.
Hill Ave. Drugs in Regina, one of the 400 pharmacies taking part, and owner and pharmacist Andrew Gilbertson said there’s been plenty of interest already.
Bookings are already into November and most people are looking to get both vaccinations at once, he said Tuesday morning. He estimated his staff deliver approximately 1,000 flu shots each year ahead of flu season.
“It’s very typical from previous falls,” he said, of the uptake.
The health authority said that as of opening day on Oct. 10, 10,769 appointments have already been booked since opening last week.
But according to recent survey by the Canadian Pharmacists Association, six in ten people in Saskatchewan and Manitoba said they are feeling “vaccine fatigue” and 40 per cent are planning to forgo a flu shot and COVID booster completely this year.
Nationally, 43 per cent of Canadians received a flu shot last fall, returning to a “pre-pandemic level” of uptake, said public health.
As for COVID vaccinations, per the provincial Ministry of Health, less than 50 per cent of Saskatchewan residents are considered “up-to-date” as of Sept. 23. Just over 2 per cent have received a COVID-19 booster dose in the last six months.
“It is a personal choice. I always emphasize it with people, as ‘it’s to prevent you from passing it on to grandma,’” Gilbertson said.
Asked to speak to that ratio, Shahab said he feels the ability to get both shots in one visit will help some feel less burned out on making time for vaccines.
“I think it’s getting much easier now, you just have to get one of each in the fall and you’re done,” he said.
Saskatchewan’s most recent respiratory illness report has advised that influenza, rhinovirus and COVID-19 activity is on the rise this fall.
Hospital admissions linked to respiratory illness increased 35 per cent in September, with COVID-19 cases accounting for more than half. School absenteeism across the province also reached 12 per cent, on average.
Saskatchewan delivered over 345,000 flu vaccines between 2022 and 2023, 46,000 of which were part of the fall rollout.
Shahab said uptake was approximately 62 per cent last year, and he is “really hopeful” the trajectory will continue upwards this year.
He encouraged people to get their immunizations, sooner than later, to mitigate the risk of illness and transmission, for both themselves and those with vulnerabilities this flu season.
“The flu vaccine has been available for decades and we know it reduces the risk of serious illness or hospitalization,” he said.
“Just like every other year, the main purpose is to prevent spread and prevent severe symptoms from happening if you do contract either flu or COVID,” Gilbertson echoed.
Flu vaccine appointments are available to book online or by calling the health authority 1-833-727-5829.