Some children and youth in northern B.C. will be able to avoid a needle this year for their flu shot with the introduction of the FluMist vaccine.
The nasal spray variety is available to eligible residents between the ages of two and 17 years of age and differs from traditional needle administer vaccines not only in distribution method but also because it's a live attenuated virus rather than a dead, purified virus.
"It's less invasive than giving kids a needle," said Carolyn Bouchard, program manager for the communicable disease team for Prince George. "Research says that the best response to that particular vaccine is in the two-to-eight-year-old population and they respond better to that vaccine than the [vaccine administered by a needle]."
Publicly funded vaccines are available free for all children between the ages of six months and five years old - although those under two won't be able to receive it in nasal spray form. Children and youth between the ages of five and 17 may qualify for a publicly funded shot if they meet certain criteria based on their health status.
Some children, for instance those with severe asthma, may not be eligible for the nasal spray.
The new vaccine was tested as a pilot project last year in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority region and is being launched province-wide this year.
Babies under six months of age are unable to receive any form of the flu vaccine, so Bouchard encourages family members and caregivers to get the shot and they are can get it for free.
FluMist is one of four flu vaccine formulations Northern Health is rolling out this year. One variety is designed specifically for people aged 65 and older and two others will be used for the general population.
"People in that age group [over 65] don't have the same immunological response to people under that age," Bouchard said of the reasons for the different types of vaccines. "They've looked at providing a different vaccine for them and what they've done is they've adjuvanted it - there's a piece we've added to make it better for them."
For the rest of the population, most people will get the Fluviral variety, but some people with certain allergies will receive Agriflu.
This year's formulations target the same A strains as last year's flu vaccine, but the B strain is different.
Northern Health's public health division will be holding drop-in clinics around the city over the coming months for those who qualify for the publicly funded vaccine, including all seniors and First Nations people as well as any adults who have certain chronic diseases. Anyone who lives with anyone in one of the high risk groups also qualifies for a publicly funded vaccine.
At the health unit office on Edmonton Street there will be a clinic on Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The facility will also hold clinics at the same time on Nov. 5, 7, 12, 22 and 29 as well as Dec. 6, 13, 20 and 27.
There will also be three clinics at Pine Centre Mall from 12:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8 and 15 as well as 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 16.
Public health will also be providing flu shots and Blackburn Community Centre (Nov. 19); College Heights Secondary School (Nov. 13); Elder Citizens Centre (Nov. 20); Hart Pioneer Centre (Nov. 19); Seniors Activity Centre (Nov. 12) and Spruce Capital Seniors Recreation Centre (Nov. 5). Times for those clinics vary.
Family doctors and some pharmcies will also be able to provide the publicly funded vaccine. People who need to purchase a dose of a flu vaccine should visit a pharmacy.
In addition to getting the shot, Bouchard said people should remember to take everyday actions to reduce the spread of the disease.
"The flu vaccine is one of the best ways to protect yourself against influenza but the daily routine of hand washing and cough etiquette help protect us in the immediate moment," Bouchard said.