Vancouver Coastal Health and Island Health are encouraging people to help protect their family, friends, and the community in general by getting a flu shot.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that can lead to serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

Health authorities say getting immunized for the flu helps protect ourselves and others, especially health care workers, and those who may be more likely to develop severe illness that would put them in hospital.

It’s particularly important to consider getting a flu shot this year as COVID-19 continues to circulate.

Dr. Dee Hoyano of Island Health says they distribute the vaccine as they receive it, so people may experience waits when they try to get a flu shot, but she says don’t be put off by having to wait and ask for one now rather than later.

“I’m encouraging people to be vaccinated before the peak of our influenza season, which is usually in December, so if you need to wait that is fine.”

Dr. Hoyano says at this time there is relatively low influenza activity.

She says getting the flu vaccine is a good precaution at any time, but with COVID-19 continuing to circulate there’s an added incentive this year.

“We certainly want to try to avoid that situation where a person could get co-infected, or basically have the two infections at the same time, and so certainly by getting vaccinated it helps to protect that from happening.”

Flu shots are free for seniors, children from six months to five years old, Indigenous people, and people with chronic health conditions, and are available from pharmacists, primary care providers, and public health clinics.

Appointments can be booked at public health flu clinics on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Powell River.

It is safe to get immunized during the pandemic as flu clinics follow all provincial recommendations for physical distancing, enhanced cleaning, and screening for symptoms.

Island Health encourages people to continue to wash hands frequently, stay home when sick, maintain a safe physical distance, or wear a non-medical face covering to reduce respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.