VANCOUVER -- As the provincial government gears up to battle the COVID-19 pandemic during flu season and avoid a "twindemic," B.C. health officials have ordered a record number of influenza vaccines as they prepare for an unprecedented messaging blitz to convince people to roll up their sleeves.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced two million doses of flu vaccine – 450,000 more than normal – are coming to B.C. as she encourages everyone to inoculate themselves against the seasonal flu, which will be free for the majority of British Columbians.

“We want everyone who is able to have an influenza vaccine to take it this year to protect themselves and their family. We know this vaccine is safe. We know that it’s effective – it’s not 100 per cent, but depending on what is circulating, we know there’s several strains of influenza circulating every year,” said Henry. “There are very few people who are not around someone who’s at high risk and so there are very few people who are not eligible for our publicly-funded influenza shot here in B.C.”

HealthLinkBC says free flu shots are available to those at serious risk of illness from influenza, including children under five, seniors, pregnant women, Indigenous people, those with asthma, diabetes, cancer, neuromuscular disorders and anyone who’s very obese.

Household contacts of anyone in those categories are also eligible for free flu shots, as are first responders, farmers and healthcare workers.

The federal government has also funded nearly 47,000 high dose FluZone vaccines for seniors in long-term care or assisted living facilities. According to the BC Centre for Disease control, high dose trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (HD TIIV) or Fluzone® High-Dose, has quadruple the antigens as conventional flu vaccines.

“For the 2020/21 influenza season, individuals 65 years of age and older living in long term care facilities are eligible for publicly funded HD TIIV,” it says in a publicly available document. “HD TIIV may be available for purchase through pharmacies throughout B.C. (for those not eligible).”

The BC Care Providers Association is pleased to see the investment in protecting the province’s most vulnerable seniors.

“The last thing we want while we’re dealing with COVID-19 and protecting seniors in care is a bad flu season, so this is kind of like a double layer of protection,” said CEO Terry Lake. “Because all the measures we’re taking for COVID-19 will help the risk of other respiratory infections like the seasonal flu but having this additional flu vaccine is going to add a layer of protection to keep our seniors safe.”

Henry pointed out the southern hemisphere’s flu season, which has wound down, was significantly milder than normal and that’s partly attributed to their big uptake in the flu vaccine there, in addition to the frequent hand-cleaning and distancing we’ve grown accustomed to.

“The measures we’ve put in place for COVID also help protect us from those other respiratory infections, so we need to keep doing the things that we’re doing – like washing our hands regularly, covering out mouths when we cough, staying at home when we’re sick,” said Henry. “The other thing (the flu vaccine) does is help reduce the impact on our healthcare system, because we know that when people are infected with influenza, particularly when we know influenza makes older people and younger people very ill, not just because of the infection but also because influenza can exacerbate some of those other conditions we have.”