Provincial chief medical officer of health Dr. Perry Kendall said Thursday that the current flu vaccine isn't perfect, but provides enough protection against the seasonal airborne virus.
Flu vaccines can only contain certain strains of the virus that causes the disease and each year manufacturers must make an informed guess about which strain will be most prevalent in the region. Some years, the matches are excellent and the vaccines are effective but other years a different strain makes the round, so the vaccine is less effective.
"It's actually ranged from 40 per cent in years when we've had a bad match to about 90 per cent in years when we have a really good match," Kendall said on a conference call Thursday. "So yeah, we do need a better vaccine."
On average, the vaccine is considered 60 per cent effective and the province won't know how this year's versions rate until after the flu season wraps up next spring.
"That 60 per cent protection is a whole lot better than zero protection," Kendall said. "If you're in a hospital and somebody offered you a 60 per cent protection against something, I'm pretty sure you'd take it up - I know I would."
This year, the province is using four different varieties of vaccine, one for children and youth, one for seniors and two for the rest of the population. They are targeting the same two A strains as last year's vaccine, but a different B strain has been incorporated into the formulations.
Kendall acknowledged that the flu shot isn't for everyone: some people may be allergic to some ingredients in the vaccine and others may have ethical or religious objections to the immunization. But he said the province is pushing forward with its new policy requiring non-vaccinated visitors to hospitals and long-term care homes to don a face mask.
Kendall said the province won't be actively barring people who haven't had their flu shot from those facilities, but it will strongly encourage people to comply.
"We don't believe that people who are visiting people who they love in healthcare facilities will want to put their loved ones or others in those facilities at risk, so this will basically be on the honour system," he said. "If somebody isn't wearing a mask during influenza system, we'll be assuming they've been vaccinated."
In addition to the flu shot, the province is encouraging people to use proper hand washing technique and coughing etiquette to reduce the spread of the bug.