Manitoba’s top doctor urges COVID, flu shots amid rising cases, struggling health-care system

With respiratory virus season ramping up, Manitoba’s top doctor is encouraging you to stay up to date with your vaccinations as the province’s health-care system struggles to recover from the pandemic.

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin urges all who are eligible to get vaccinated, especially with influenza already circulating.

About 10 per cent of the eligible population has received a flu shot so far this season, although among those 65 and older, uptake reaches closer to 30 per cent, he said.

Read more: Manitoba rolls out seasonal flu shot campaign

“Because (influenza) was common, because people are used to hearing about it, they don’t perceive it as risky as it actually is … and this year is going to be no exception,” Roussin told Global News on Thursday.

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“Every year, pre-pandemic, thousands of Canadians lost their lives to the flu. Thousands and thousands more spend time in hospital and in ICU.”

Roussin fears rising COVID-19 cases combined with influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), among others, could jolt an already battered health-care system.

“We know that we’re going to see significant impacts from both of these viruses, as well as other respiratory viruses, in the very near future,” he said. “We also know that the health-care system is under tremendous strain right now going into this flu season.”

“We have to be prepared.”

Manitoba Health says people 65 and older and children between six to 58 months old are among those most at risk.

Read more: Canadian study shows flu vaccine can help prevent stroke

But some people fear many won’t roll up their sleeves.

“I do think there’s a fatigue out there. I think we’ve been putting shots in our arms, and (I) think there’s almost a misunderstanding that we’re not covered for all these other things, right?” Winnipegger Jason Steadwell told Global News on Thursday.

Steadwell said his family plans on getting theirs soon.

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“We’re actually late this year. My son was asking about it yesterday. ‘Are we getting the flu shot?’” Steadwell said. “We forgot about it I think partly because of the vaccines that we’ve been going through.”

Others told Global News complacency and conspiracy theories could also prevent some from getting their flu shot.

Seasonal influenza vaccine uptake has gone up over the past five years, apart from a small dip last season when almost 29 per cent of eligible Manitobans got their flu shot.

During the 2017-2018 season, 22.5 per cent were vaccinated against influenza. That percentage rose each year until 2020-2021 when it was 31.7 per cent.

Read more: Manitoba reports rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths

As of Saturday, 20 per cent of eligible Manitobans had gotten one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in the last six months, the province’s latest respiratory surveillance report says.

As of Thursday, even fewer –17 per cent — had received a fourth booster while eight per cent had received a bivalent vaccine, Roussin said.

COVID-19 and flu shots can be booked online, and location information can be found on the province’s website.

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Click to play video: 'Learning about the bivalent vaccine'

Learning about the bivalent vaccine

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