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What to know about this year's flu shot

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With flu season back in swing, Canadians are encouraged to get their annual flu shot. This year's influenza vaccine rollout might be more crucial than ever, experts say.

"One thing that we need to remember is that because there were fewer influenza infections over the last two years because of the COVID-19 restrictions, … the population, in general, is (now) more susceptible to influenza," Dr. Jesse Papenburg, Montreal-based pediatric infectious disease specialist, told CTV's Your Morning on Monday.

"So I think that this year, we should expect to see a lot of influenza infections and the best way to protect yourself against getting an infection and against getting severe disease is to get vaccinated against influenza this fall."

Relatively low circulation of the flu over the past two years puts young children at greater risk than usual of catching it this fall and winter, experts warned last week. They also fear fewer pandemic measures and reduced vaccination uptake will lead to further virus spread.

Necessary pandemic measures to limit COVID-19 spread led to just 69 lab-confirmed flu cases during the 2020-2021 season and only sporadic cases in 2021-2022, according to a recent update from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which advises the Public Health Agency of Canada on vaccine use.

This year's flu shots will coincide with the rollout of bivalent COVID-19 vaccines that target Omicron strains.

According to Papenburg, both vaccines can be safely taken together.

"You can get both the COVID-19 shot and the influenza vaccine concomitantly, at the same time, or you can get it within a certain number of weeks. It doesn't matter," he said.

"It's been shown to be safe and effective when it's given at the same time or at different times."

Papenburg says that flu risks are especially high this year for younger children under five and two, adults over the age of 65, pregnant women and anyone with certain chronic medical conditions involving their lungs, heart or immune system.

Pointing to Australia's recent flu season last summer, which was considered one of its worst flu seasons in history and which began earlier than usual, Papenburg warns of a similar situation in Canada.

"I have no reason to believe that in Canada, we're going to escape it. I think we're gonna (see) at least average levels of influenza activity this year, if not higher."

With files from The Canadian Press 

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