Influenza and the Flu Shot FAQs

November 24, 2021 Update: There are no more Public Health flu clinics scheduled at this time. The flu vaccine is available at pharmacies and from your primary care provider.

What is the flu?

Influenza, or the “flu”, is a respiratory illness that spreads from person to person. Most people recover from the flu in 7 to 10 days, but infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions are at greater risk of serious complications such as pneumonia.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Influenza symptoms range from unpleasant to very serious. Symptoms usually appear 1 to 4 days after you have been exposed to the virus. You can be contagious even if you do not show symptoms.

Symptoms of influenza include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Runny eyes
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Extreme weakness and tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea or vomiting (in children)

What are the high-risk groups?

According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), individuals in the following groups are particularly recommended to get the flu vaccine:

  1. Individuals at high risk of influenza-related complications or who are more likely to require hospitalization:
    • All pregnant women
    • People who are residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities
    • People ≥ 65 years of age
    • All children 6 months to 4 years of age
    • Indigenous peoples
    • Adults or children 6 months of age and over with chronic health conditions as follows:
      • Cardiac or pulmonary disorders
      • Diabetes mellitus or other metabolic disease
      • Cancer
      • Conditions or medication which compromise the immune system (due to underlying disease, therapy or both)
      • Renal disease
      • Anemia or hemoglobinopathy
      • Neurologic or neurodevelopment conditions
      • Morbid obesity (body mass index of ≥ 40)
      • Children and adolescents (6 months to 18 years) undergoing treatment with acetylsalicylic acid for long periods
  2. Individuals capable of transmitting influenza to those listed in #1 and/or to infants under 6 months of age:
    • Health care workers and other care providers in facilities and community settings
    • Household contacts (adults and children) of individuals at high risk of influenza related complications
    • Persons who provide care to children ≤ 4 years of age
    • Members of a household expecting a newborn during the influenza season
    • Those who provide services within a closed or relatively closed setting to persons at high risk (e.g., crew on a ship)
  3. People who provide essential community services
  4. Poultry industry workers

Where can I get a flu shot?

AGES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER

  • Family doctor or primary care provider
  • Pharmacy (2 years of age and older)
    • Pharmacies now carry the high-dose flu vaccine for seniors.
  • Public Health
    • November 24, 2021 Update: There are no more Public Health flu clinics scheduled at this time. The flu vaccine is available at pharmacies and from your primary care provider.

Can I get a flu shot if I am not feeling well?

If you are sick, you should wait until you feel better before being immunized.

If you have symptoms of acute respiratory infection, including minor symptoms such as sore throat or runny nose, you should wait to get your flu shot until 10 days from when your symptoms started or you have recovered, whichever is later.

If you have suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19, or are a close contact of a case, you should not attend your flu shot appointment.

Is FluMist an option for my kids this year?

FluMist is being distributed across Ontario for the 2021-22 flu season, but it will not be available at Public Health. FluMist may be available at some pharmacies. Contact your local pharmacy to find out if they are carrying FluMist this year.

My child hates needles, what can I do?

  • Encourage your child to eat before their appointment.
  • Bring something to distract your child that they enjoy.
  • If your child is still breastfeeding, they can be breastfed during the immunization.
  • Wear short sleeves so the upper arm can be easily reached.
  • Topical numbing creams or gels can be helpful for some children. Talk to your pharmacist about this option.

What is the difference between the standard-dose flu vaccine and the high-dose flu vaccine for seniors?

If you are 65 and older, there are two different flu shots available – standard-dose and high-dose.

The standard-dose flu vaccine protects against four strains of flu virus while the high-dose flu vaccine for seniors protects against three strains of flu virus, but in higher doses.

Both vaccines are effective, so those 65 and older should not delay getting immunized.

Where can I get the high-dose flu vaccine for seniors?

This year, pharmacies will be offering the high-dose flu vaccine for seniors. It will also be available through your primary care provider and at Public Health, but in smaller quantities. Public Health is not able to guarantee requests for high-dose flu vaccine for seniors.

It is important for seniors to get the flu shot that is available in their location without delay. Both standard dose flu vaccine and high-dose flu vaccine are effective.

Do I need to bring my health card to get a flu shot?

No, you do not need your health card if you come to Public Health.

You will need to bring it if you go to a pharmacy.

How effective is this year’s flu vaccine?

It is too early in the season to know the effectiveness. You can go online to the FluWatch website at Canada.ca to see weekly influenza reports.

Can I get the flu shot if I have an egg allergy?

Yes. You may talk to your doctor or primary care provider if you have any concerns.

How many doses of flu vaccine do I need?

Most people need only one dose each year.

Children ages 6 months to 8 years need two doses of vaccine at least 4 weeks apart if it is the first time they are getting the flu vaccine.

Does the flu vaccine work right away?

No, it takes 2 weeks for your system to develop antibodies that fight the flu. This is why it is best to be immunized early in the flu season.

What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?

  • Redness, swelling and soreness where the needle was given
  • Headache
  • Tiredness/weakness
  • Fever

These side effects are generally mild and last only a few days.

What to do:

  • Put a clean, cold cloth over the sore area
  • Continue to move your arm as much as possible
  • Get a good night’s sleep

When to get immediate care:

See your doctor or primary care provider immediately or go to the nearest hospital emergency department if any of these symptoms develop:

  • Hives
  • Swelling of the mouth or throat
  • Trouble breathing, hoarseness or wheezing
  • High fever (over 40 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Convulsions (seizures)

Who should NOT get a flu shot?

  • Anyone who has had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous flu immunization
  • Anyone who has had a serious allergic reaction to any ingredient in the vaccine (with the exception of egg)
  • Anyone who had Guillain-Barré syndrome within 6 weeks of a previous flu immunization
  • Children under 6 months of age

When is it too late to get a flu shot?

As long as influenza is still circulating in the community and there is still flu vaccine available, you can still get immunized.

The Flu and COVID-19

Why is the flu shot so important this year?

As flu season emerges during the COVID-19 pandemic, increased numbers of flu infections may put increased strains on our healthcare system. Getting your flu shot is an important way to help maintain our health care system.

Does the flu vaccine offer protection against COVID-19?

No. The flu vaccine will not protect against coronaviruses and COVID-19 but will help prevent the flu.

Will the flu vaccine increase risk of illness with COVID-19?

No. Getting a flu vaccine will not increase your risk of COVID-19 illness.

Is it possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes, it is possible to get both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

Can I get the flu shot if I recently received the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. On September 28, 2021, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) updated its recommendations on the co-administration of COVID-19 vaccines with other vaccines. Based on NACI’s review of the effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccines, NACI recommends that non-COVID-19 vaccines may be given on the same day, or at any time before or after the COVID-19 vaccine.