Coquitlam MLA calls for high-dose flu shots amid fears of COVID-19 ‘double whammy’

With concerns about a second wave of COVID-19 this fall, public health officials want people to get flu shots, but a high-dose flu shot that may be effective for seniors would cost about $75, MLA Joan Isaacs wants it to be free for people in long term care and other community settings

Fears that seniors could face a double whammy of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu has prompted a Coquitlam MLA to call for free high-dose flu shots for B.C. seniors.

Coquitlam MLA Joan Isaacs is calling on the B.C. government to consider the stronger vaccine for long-term care homes as well as other elderly people living in the community.

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“Seniors have been the hardest hit by COVID-19, and as we approach flu season it’s frightening to remember that they also experience 70% of influenza-related hospitalization cases,” said Isaacs. 

“Without greater access to the high-dose flu shot, many seniors will be facing a war on two fronts.”

The timing of the request comes as Canadian health officials are recommending people get a flu shot this year and millions of doses of regular flu shots have been ordered.

Provincial and territorial governments, including B.C., have increased their orders for the influenza vaccine this year in preparation for a second surge of COVID-19 and a simultaneous outbreak of seasonal flu. The Public Health Agency of Canada also plans to promote the flu vaccine in populations at higher risk of complications from influenza.

Because it contains more antigens, the high-dose flu shot is considered especially beneficial for seniors, who can be vulnerable to the flu because of their weakened immune systems and, as a result, often end up getting sicker.

Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Joan Isaacs.
Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Joan Isaacs. - File

The flu is among the 10 leading causes of death in Canada, linked to an average of 3,500 deaths every year.

But the high-dose flu shot can cost up to $75 in pharmacies and seniors on fixed incomes are likely to give it a pass, preferring instead to get a standard flu shot which is free for those over 65, as well as care givers, children and adults with chronic health conditions, according to HealthLinkBC.

Issac’s High Dose Influenza Vaccine for Seniors Act, 2020 would require the province to study ways to expand access for seniors. 

“If seniors are forced to keep paying such high prices for the extra protection these vaccines offer, we’ll continue to see alarming rates of influenza-related illnesses and deaths among seniors,” she said. 

“This bill will ensure that vulnerable seniors will see less time in our hospitals and more time enjoying happier and healthier lives.”

The bill was first introduced by Isaacs in October of 2018 and again in November of 2019 but John Horgan and the NDP government never called it before the legislature for debate, according to the press release from the BC Liberals.

Despite the concerns of a surge in COVID-19 cases overlapping with the influenza season, there are some signs that public health messaging could beat back both contagions at once.

Early indications show that efforts to control COVID-19, such as hand washing, physical distancing and staying home when sick also reduce the spread of the influenza virus and cities in the Southern Hemisphere, which are experiencing winter, currently have very low levels of influenza virus.

— with files from the Times Colonist

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