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'Our new normal': N.S. top doctor urges residents to get vaccinations up to date during respiratory virus season

Nova Scotia’s top doctor is encouraging residents to get their vaccinations up-to-date as the province heads into respiratory virus season.

At a vaccine update Tuesday morning, Dr. Robert Strang said there is an increase in cases of COVID-19 in particular right now, although he adds the numbers are not like what was seen before during peak pandemic waves.

According to the province's numbers online, there were 440 PCR positives, 38 hospitalizations and two deaths from COVID-19 in August. It says the number of cases increased from the previous month, while hospitalizations and deaths remained “relatively stable.”

“Thinking about all respiratory viruses, not just COVID-19,” said Dr. Strang, “and taking reasonable steps to protect ourselves is now our new normal.”

The province’s chief medical officer of health encouraged residents to get both their COVID-19 and flu shots this fall.

“We know that there's been low uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine boosters, both in the fall of 2022 and the spring of 2023,” he said, “and that low uptake was even in higher risk groups. So for many people, including those at higher risk, it may be up to a year since they last had their COVID-19 vaccine, so it's very important that people get both their flu vaccine and their COVID-19 vaccine this fall.”

On the streets of downtown Halifax, some are eager to get their appointments.

“I'm not up to date as we speak but I definitely plan on getting up to date because it's pretty much back,” says Darren Pinaud.

“I’m pro-vaccination,” says Jamie Murdoch, “I try to get my flu shot because I work with a lot of immuno-compromised people as well as children and elderly people in community service so it's really important for me to be protecting myself and also to not pass anything on to anyone else.”

But there are others who aren't so quick to roll up their sleeves.

“I've never had a flu shot in my life and I’ve maybe had the flu once or twice and that's it so no, probably not,” says Rob Young. He and his wife Ellen moved to Nova Scotia from Manitoba several years ago, and both say they received their COVID-19 vaccinations only to be able to come into the province, and don’t plan to get any more.

But for those who want them, the province says appointments for COVID-19 and flu shots will start opening up next week.

For the first time, Nova Scotia is also making the high-dose flu vaccine available for free for all residents aged 65 and older.

It says vaccinations will begin at pharmacies and outreach clinics on the following schedule:

  • high-dose influenza (65-plus only) - available now
  • Moderna's updated COVID-19 vaccine - the week of October 16
  • standard-dose influenza vaccine - the week of October 23
  • Pfizer's updated COVID-19 vaccine - late October/early November.

Appointments will be available online at the CANImmunize booking site, and Dr. Strang said the province is also working on setting up a vaccine booking phone line, which is expected to be up and running after Thanksgiving.

Pharmacist Chintan Prajapati anticipates he will be very busy with immunizations this fall.

“Having the opportunity to get both the vaccines together is convenient for a lot of people and I think that's going to be one of the driving factors for traffic as well,” he says from his West Bedford pharmacy.

As for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Dr. Strang said there have been some early cases and he expects more may come later in the fall and winter.

But the RSV vaccine recently approved by Health Canada isn't covered by the provincial health plan right now, although other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, did so earlier this month.

At the Tuesday news conference, Dr. Strang said the province is waiting for a recommendation from the federal body on vaccines. “We know that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is going to be doing their review, both for the very young and the very old, of RSV vaccines in 2024.”

Dr. Strang also spoke to other public health measures such as masking and testing. He advised anyone with respiratory symptoms to stay home. “If this is not possible, it is extremely important that you wear a surgical or N95 mask,” he added, “wearing a mask remains a choice based on your age and health.”

He also said testing specifically for COVID-19 is not necessary for those who are not in high-risk categories, as the public health advice for both COVID-19 and the flu remains the same.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories

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