Influenza circulates in Canada from about November through April each year. About 20,000 Canadians who get the flu will be sick enough to require hospital care, and 4,000 will die from complications.
Every province and territory in Canada offers free flu vaccines to at-risk residents. If you are not in a risk group, but live or work in close contact with people at high risk you will generally be eligible for free influenza vaccination as well. In some provinces and territories, all residents can get a free flu shot. Read on to find out if you can get a free flu vaccine where you live, study or work.
Provinces offering universal free flu vaccines
Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario routinely offer free influenza vaccines to their residents. As 2010-2011 is the first year after an influenza epidemic, Saskatchewan is also offering universal access to free flu shots this year. All three Canadian territories routinely distribute free influenza vaccines to their residents.
Free flu shots for children and pregnant women
Every province offers free flu vaccines to children 6 to 23 months. In Newfoundland kids can get a free flu shot up to age 4, and in PEI children are eligible up to age 5. In New Brunswick, all children up to age 18 can get a free influenza shot. Pregnant women are also prioritized across Canada, although in some provinces like Quebec you may have to be in your second or third trimester to qualify for free influenza vaccination. Some provinces also give free vaccines to anyone working in child care.
Free flu shots for the elderly
A flu vaccine prevents severe complications like pneumonia in 6 out of 10 seniors, and saves lives more than 8 out of 10 times. Every province and territory recommends yearly influenza vaccination for people over age 65. Quebec offers free flu shots to all residents over age 60, while most provinces require residents to be 65 for a free vaccine. PEI appears to be the only place in Canada where senior citizens don’t benefit from a free vaccine.
Free flu shots for people with chronic illnesses
Children and adults with chronic health concerns are eligible for free vaccination in every province, unfortunately the list of recognized conditions varies from province to province. During the 2009 swine flu outbreak, we even discovered that priority was given for different conditions within the same province. Ask your doctor, or check with your regional or provincial; health authority to see if you qualify for a free flu shot.
People most likely to qualify for a free flu vaccine are those who have chronic heart, lung, liver or kidney disease, metabolic or blood disorders, or compromised immunity. Specific conditions include asthma, diabetes, anemia, cancer and HIV/AIDS.
Don’t be afraid to do a little digging to see if you qualify, however. Some health concerns such as obesity are not always mentioned when a province publicizes its free flu vaccine program. Other conditions that may qualify are seizure disorders and other neuromuscular conditions, which may affect breathing or increase the risk of aspiration. Even your primary care physician or specialist may not be aware that you qualify for a free flu vaccine, so don’t be shy about browsing health authority web sites for documents aimed at physicians. The more concise pamphlets and posters that target the general public don’t tell the whole story!
Free flu shots for Aboriginal people
First Nations, Métis and Inuit people have an elevated risk for certain chronic conditions like diabetes that are associated with complications from influenza. Living in a remote region also places Canadians at risk if they develop complications from the flu. The Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut all offer universal free flu vaccines to their residents. British Columbia and Newfoundland also offer free flu shots to their Aboriginal residents.
Prioritizing workers for free influenza vaccines
Most Canadian provinces prioritize people who work in health and child care settings for free flu vaccines. In addition, people who provide essential services and people who work in close contact with poultry or swine are given free flu shots in Newfoundland.
For more information on influenza or how to get a flu vaccine, Canadians can select their home province or territory on the map at FightFlu.ca
“2010 walk in flu shot clinics.” Northwest Territories Health and Social Services
“Communicable disease prevention and control: Influenza.” Nova Scotia Health Promotion and Protection
“Fiche indicative concernant la vaccination gratuite.” Santé et services sociaux Québec
“Free influenza vaccine.” New Brunswick Health
“Influenza (flu) vaccine.” HealthLink BC
“Influenza: Frequently asked questions.” Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
“Influenza immunization/Vaccine FAQs.” Alberta Health Services
“Influenza vaccine now available. PEI Department of Health and Wellness
“Residents encouraged to receive seasonal influenza vaccination.” Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
“Seasonal flu: Vaccination.” Santé et services sociaux Québec
“Seasonal flu vaccination & clinic dates.” Yukon Health and Social Services
“Seasonal flu virus.” Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care
“Seasonal influenza vaccine.” Saskatchewan Ministry of Health
“Seniors and children.” Huron County Health
“What is the flu?” FightFlu.ca
David C. Williams, MD, MHSc, FRCPC, Letter concerning Universal Influenza Immunization Program (UIIP). Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care