The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is encouraging residents to get the flu shot.

With a network of 130 pharmacies in the region providing the free flu vaccines the health unit says there are few reasons to forego the protection you get from the shot.

Mary Ann Holmes is the program manager for the Immunization Clinical Service Department for the health unit. She says it is important to get your flu shot as early as possible. If not you could come into contact with a flu virus and not be protected as it takes some time to get your immunity built up.

“The thing that people need to remember is that it takes about two weeks for your flu shot to be effective,” Holmes reminds people. “So if you’re already in contact with influenza or any other type of respiratory illness. . . before your flu shot is fully effective it’s not going to prevent you from coming down with an infection at that point.”

Holmes says there are some common misconceptions she frequently hears around the flu shot conversation.

“The one I hear most often is ‘I got the flu shot and then I got the flu’,” she recounts. “That is a big misconception. The influenza shot is actually not a live vaccine. There is one version of the flu shot which is flu mist, a nasal spray that is available for kids that is a live vaccine.”

There are also a lot of people who misidentify what the flu is and whether or not they have it.

True influenza – the flu – can cause sudden onset of headaches, fever and chills, cough, and fatigue. Symptoms can include aching bones and muscles and can last up to a week, while the associated fatigue can go another two to three weeks.

Holmes says the flu shot also has a limited time of usefulness before you have to get the next one. So if you got a shot last year, it will not be helping you this year.

The flu shot only lasts about six to 12 months,” she explains. “That’s why we want people to get the flu shot every season. Because every year the strains that the flu shot protects against are different.”

The determination of what strains of the virus will be vaccinated against in the northern hemisphere comes from the World Health Organization every April.

“There are years where we have a really good match and the vaccine is really effective in terms of what we see in our community,” Holmes explains. “(And)  there are years where it is not such a great match.

“But what I encourage people to do is that some protection is better than none.”

She stresses that while the main part of the population can withstand a bout of the flu, exposing those groups such as the young, elderly or people with compromised immune systems hits them harder. In short, it’s not just about you.

“It is easier than ever to get your flu shot,” says Holmes, though she does want to remind people not everyone can get a shot at the pharmacy.

“Pharmacists can’t give the flu shot to anybody under five,” she says. “So if you have a child that is under five you would have to take them still to your family doctor to get their shot.”

The SMDHU tracks how many reported cases of flu are in the area. You can find this information by clicking here.