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Frequently asked questions about influenza vaccines

Getting the influenza vaccine: What, who, when, where, why? 

What are influenza vaccines?

Influenza vaccines protect against viruses that cause influenza, often called the flu. The vaccine does not protect against other viruses or bacteria that cause colds or stomach flu. Influenza is an infection of the upper airway caused by an influenza A or B virus. It can cause serious illness and sometimes death. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against influenza. 

What virus strains do the 2021/22 influenza vaccines protect against? 
Because influenza viruses change often (mutate), the specific virus strains in the vaccine are reviewed each year by the World Health Organization and updated as needed so that there is the greatest probability of matching the virus strains that are circulating in the community. The 2021/2022 influenza vaccines contain the following strains:
  • A/Victoria/2570/2019 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
  • A/Cambodia/e0826360/2020 (H3N2)-like virus
  • B/Washington/02/2019-like virus 
  • B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus 
The A/Victoria and A/Cambodia strains were not contained in the 2020/21 season vaccines.
Who should get the influenza vaccine?

It is recommended that everyone 6 months of age and older get an influenza vaccine, with rare exception. Some people are at high risk of serious illness from influenza, such as children 6 months to less than 5 years of age, pregnant people, seniors 65 years and older, and people with certain medical conditions. Vaccination is especially important for these people.

Is the influenza vaccine free? 

Yes. This year, influenza vaccination is free for everyone in B.C. 6 months and older. The influenza vaccine is especially important for people who are at high risk of serious illness from influenza (such as young children, pregnant people, the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions), those able to transmit or spread influenza to those at high risk, and people who provide essential community services and those who work with live poultry. 

When are influenza vaccines available in BC?

In BC, influenza vaccines are usually available in October. You can visit your local health authority's website or contact your local health unit for information on influenza vaccine availability in your area.

Where can I get an influenza vaccine?
Influenza vaccines are provided at a wide variety of locations across the province, including:
  • Public health clinics
  • Pharmacies (pharmacists can immunize people 5 years of age and older with the injectable vaccine and 2 years and older with the nasal spray influenza vaccine)
  • Doctors’ offices
  • Travel clinics
Services vary by location. You can use our Influenza (Flu) Clinic Locator to find an influenza vaccine clinic near you.
You can also find a pharmacy offering influenza vaccinations near you and book an appointment online by visiting the B.C. Pharmacy Association website
Use the Fluzone High-Dose Locator to find a pharmacy that has the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine for purchase.
When is the best time to get the influenza vaccine? 

The influenza season in Canada generally runs from November through April. In B.C., influenza vaccines are usually available starting in October. Although you can receive the vaccine at any time during the influenza season, for best protection, you should get vaccinated as early as possible (as soon as the vaccine is available in your area). It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza. 

Why do I need an influenza vaccine every year?
An influenza vaccine is needed every year for two reasons:

1. Influenza viruses are constantly changing (mutating), so each year the viruses used to make the vaccine change to protect you against the viruses circulating that year.

2. Protection from the influenza vaccine goes down over time. According to the Canadian Immunization Guide, yearly vaccination is needed because the body’s immune response from vaccination goes down "within a year".  


How influenza vaccines work and vaccine effectiveness.

How do influenza vaccines work?
Influenza vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the virus strains that are in the vaccine. Learn more about how vaccines work in our how vaccines work section
Influenza vaccines are designed to protect against the influenza virus strains that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming influenza season. 
How effective are influenza vaccines? 

The influenza vaccine is the best way to protect against influenza. How well the vaccine works varies from season to season. It depends on how well-matched the influenza vaccine is with the viruses circulating during the season and on the health and age status of the person being vaccinated. When the influenza vaccine is well-matched with the circulating viruses, it prevents influenza in about 60% to 80% of adults and youth receiving the vaccine. It is less effective in seniors and elders, but studies have shown that the influenza vaccine decreases the incidence of pneumonia, hospital admissions, and death in the elderly population.

Do we know how effective the 2021/22 influenza vaccine will be?
We won't know the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine until closer to the end of the influenza season when information about people who were infected, sick, and died is analyzed after the fact. The vaccine effectiveness this year will be difficult to measure due to all of the public health measures in place for COVID-19.
Even when there is a less-than-ideal match or lower effectiveness against one virus strain, the seasonal influenza vaccine can still provide protection against the other virus strains contained in the vaccine. If you do get influenza after getting vaccinated, the vaccine may reduce the severity of influenza-related complications. 


Accessing the influenza vaccine for employees, clients, patients, etc.

Is there a mobile clinic that can come to our work location to vaccinate our employees?
A number of organizations, including private health care agencies, pharmacies, and travel clinics, have offered this service in the past. This information can be found online by searching for workplace influenza (flu) vaccine clinics in B.C. or by contacting your local pharmacy or travel clinic. ImmunizeBC does not endorse any one organization, and we recommend that you contact the specific organization for details.
Your local health unit may have information on who provides this service in your area. 
Is there a way to get in-home influenza vaccines for those who are housebound?
You can contact your local health unit for this information. Ask to speak to a public health nurse.
We work with developmentally disabled adults, some of whom are very needle phobic. Is there a possibility to arrange for them to get the nasal spray vaccine?

Contact your local health unit to see if this can be arranged. Ask to speak to a public health nurse. 


Fluzone® High-Dose vaccine.

Who in BC can receive the Fluzone® High-Dose vaccine for free?

Adults 65 years of age and older living in long-term care, assisted living facilities, and First Nations communities are considered to be at higher risk of serious illness from influenza and are eligible to receive the Fluzone® High-Dose vaccine for free.

What is the cost of the Fluzone® High-Dose vaccine?
Those who are not eligible for the publicly funded (free) program can purchase the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine at some pharmacies and travel health clinics. A prescription is not required.
The cost of the vaccine can range from about $75 to $100, depending on the clinic and their vaccine administration fee. Use the Fluzone High-Dose Locator to find a pharmacy that has the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine. 
Why is Fluzone® High-Dose not free for all people 65 years of age and older in BC?

In B.C., decisions to fund a vaccine program are made by the Ministry of Health, based on recommendations from the Communicable Disease Policy Advisory Committee. These recommendations are based on scientific evidence and recommendations from Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). Although Fluzone® High-Dose may provide better protection on an individual level, there are other things that the Ministry of Health has to consider, such as the protection it provides, reduction in disease, how many people need to be vaccinated to reduce influenza disease, and the cost of the program compared to the benefit to the population. In B.C., the scientific data was reviewed, and at this time it was determined that only those at the highest risk for influenza will be able to receive Fluzone® High-Dose for free. Others may choose to buy the vaccine at a local pharmacy or travel clinic. For more information about which influenza vaccine is right for you, talk to your health care provider.

I received a regular influenza vaccine already this season. Can I now get Fluzone® High-Dose as well?

It is not recommended that anyone receive more than one dose of influenza vaccine in a season except for certain children aged 6 months to 8 years, for whom two doses are recommended if it is their first time receiving an influenza vaccine. Any of the available influenza vaccine products are safe and effective.


Influenza vaccines and COVID-19.

Why is it more important this year than ever to get vaccinated against influenza?
Getting an influenza vaccine is more important than ever this year to protect yourself and the people around you from influenza and to help reduce the strain on our overstretched health care system responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
The symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza can be similar and make people sick enough to go to the hospital. By getting your influenza vaccine, you can help the health care system keep resources available to help those with COVID-19. In addition, last year’s low influenza rates mean our immunity against influenza is lower than usual. This makes getting your influenza vaccine this year more important than ever to protect yourself, your community, and our overstretched health care system.
How can I tell if I have influenza or if I have COVID-19?
Influenza and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, so it may be hard to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. It is best to confirm your COVID-19 diagnosis with a test and follow COVID-19 prevention measures to help keep others safe.
Influenza and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses but are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than influenza and can cause more serious illnesses in some people. In addition, people with COVID-19 can take longer to show symptoms and can be contagious for longer than those with influenza.


Safety, allergies, and side effects.

What are the side effects of the influenza vaccine?

The influenza vaccine is very safe, and many people do not experience side effects. Common reactions to the vaccine include soreness, redness, and swelling where the vaccine was given. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, aching muscles, and fatigue that may last 1 to 2 days. 

How do I report an unexpected side effect?

It is important to report any unexpected side effects to the health care provider that gave you the vaccine so that they can be investigated further, even if you don't know if the vaccine caused them. By reporting an adverse event (a serious or unexpected reaction that happens after someone receives a vaccine), possible vaccine safety concerns can be investigated and appropriate actions taken. If you don't know who gave you your vaccine, contact your local health unit and ask to speak to a public health nurse. 

Can influenza vaccines give me influenza?

The inactivated influenza vaccine cannot give you influenza. This vaccine contains killed influenza viruses that cannot cause infection. The live attenuated influenza vaccine given as a nasal spray contains weakened influenza viruses. Common reactions to the live vaccine include mild symptoms such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, and fever. These symptoms are less severe than those from influenza infection and last a shorter time. As a precaution, people with weakened immune systems should not get the live vaccine.

Are influenza vaccines safe for pregnant people?
The inactivated influenza vaccine is considered safe at any stage of pregnancy. Pregnant people, or those intending to become pregnant, should receive the inactivated influenza vaccine, which contains killed influenza viruses that cannot cause infection.
People in the second half of pregnancy are at higher risk of influenza-related complications and at higher risk of hospitalization from these complications, especially those in the third trimester. As well, people at any stage of pregnancy who have chronic medical conditions are also at higher risk of serious influenza complications and should be vaccinated.
Visit our pregnancy section to learn more about vaccines and pregnancy.
Can I get an influenza vaccine if I am allergic to eggs?

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization says that people who are allergic to eggs, including those who have experienced anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergy) after eating eggs, can be safely vaccinated with a full dose of inactivated or live attenuated influenza vaccine. This recommendation is supported by more and more research that shows it is safe to vaccinate people who are allergic to eggs using inactivated or live attenuated influenza vaccines. 

I had Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) two years ago. Can I safely receive the influenza vaccine this year?
People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 8 weeks of getting a previous dose of influenza vaccine with no other cause identified should not get the vaccine. People who have developed GBS outside this time period or who have a different cause confirmed may receive the vaccine. 
While the cause of GBS is not fully understood, the syndrome often happens after an infection with a virus or bacteria. For further questions, speak with a healthcare provider about your health history and risk of GBS from influenza virus compared to the vaccine. Studies suggest that it is more likely that a person will get GBS after getting influenza than after vaccination. It is important to keep in mind that severe illness and death are associated with influenza, and getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent influenza infection and its complications.


Timing of influenza vaccination with other vaccines or medicines.

Can I get the influenza vaccine at the same time as other vaccines, like the pneumococcal or shingles vaccine?

Influenza vaccines can be given at the same time or any time before or after other vaccines.

Can I get the influenza vaccine the same day as a TB skin test?

The influenza vaccine can be given on the same day or at any time before or after a TB skin test (Mantoux test) is done. Influenza vaccines will not affect the result of the TB test.

I am immunosuppressed due to medication I am taking. Can I get the influenza vaccine?

Influenza immunization with the inactivated influenza vaccine is recommended for all immunosuppressed individuals. People with immunosuppression (due to underlying disease or therapy) are at high risk of serious illness from influenza. As a precaution, people with weakened immune systems should not get the live vaccine. However, in order to assess if you can safely get this vaccine, we recommend that you contact your immunizing health care provider (public health nurse, physician or pharmacist).

I am receiving treatment for cancer. Can I get the influenza vaccine?

In general, people with cancer are considered at high risk for serious illness from influenza (the flu) and should get the inactivated influenza (flu) vaccine. However, the type of treatment you receive may affect the timing of when you should get the vaccine. We recommend that you speak with your health care provider about getting vaccinated. As a precaution, people with weakened immune systems should not get the live vaccine.


Children and the influenza vaccine.

Why do children under 9 receiving the influenza vaccine for the first time need two doses?

Children under 9 need 2 doses of the influenza vaccine the first year they receive it for best protection. The first dose of the influenza vaccine “primes” the immune system but may not result in high levels of protection.  So, a second dose is needed to raise their level of protection. The second dose results in the child's immune system producing enough antibodies so they will be able to fight off influenza when they come in contact with it. 

My child had their first dose of influenza vaccine last month and needs their second dose. Do both vaccines have to be the same product?

If a child (aged less than 9 years) requires 2 doses of influenza vaccine in the same influenza season, using the same type of vaccine for both doses is preferable. However, if the type of vaccine used for the first dose is not available, any product may be used for the second dose.

Where do I get the numbing cream for my child to use before they get the vaccine?

You can buy numbing creams and patches at your local pharmacy. You do not need a prescription from your health care provider to buy them. Here is some information about the numbing creams and patches.

Where can my child get the nasal spray vaccine?
Visit the Influenza (Flu) Clinic locator and check the “Nasal spray available” box to find a pharmacy offering the vaccine. Your local health unit may also have the nasal spray vaccine. 


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