Local resident Amber Whitford receives her influenza immunization holding her son Matthew McKenzie Monday morning at the Harvest Centre. Mark Weber/Red Deer Express

WATCH: The province’s flu shot campaign is underway

Influenza immunizations are available across Red Deer free of charge

Influenza immunizations are now available, free of charge, to all Albertans six months of age and older, through AHS clinics, pharmacies and physicians across Central Alberta.

“It’s available at no cost, and it can prevent serious illness. So we are encouraging everyone to get immunized this influenza season,” said Dr. Digby Horne, medical officer of health for the Central Zone.

As to what locals can expect in terms of the severity of the season, Horne said it’s tough to tell until the flu season kicks in.

“It’s very hard to tell – sometimes we get some kind of indication from the southern hemisphere, and last year their influenza season wasn’t really severe, so it’s possible that this season might not be as severe. But we never know until it gets here,” he said.

“Some people think that you could possibly get influenza from the vaccine, but it’s inactivated so you can’t get it – you can get some mild symptoms of soreness and redness at the injection site; some fever some malaise, rashes and very rarely there is a neurological condition that happens with about one in a million (people). Mostly, the vaccine is tolerated with very few side effects,” he said, adding that last year, about 29 per cent of the population in the province were immunized.

“We are aiming for at least 35 per cent this year,” he said. “It does tend to go up and down, but slowly the proportion of the population that is being immunized is increasing.”

According to AHS, pharmacists can now immunize children five years of age and older. Children less than five years of age must be immunized at an AHS Clinic.

“Last season, influenza immunization cut Albertans’ risk for influenza by just over 40 per cent,” said Dr. Christopher Sikora, acting senior medical officer of health for AHS. “That’s great, but last year’s immunization won’t protect you this season. You need this season’s immunization to be protected this season,” he said.

Last year, more than 3,000 Albertans with influenza were hospitalized and 92 Albertans died with influenza.

Officials point out that influenza causes more emergency department visits than heart attacks or strokes, not to mention significant downtime from work and leisure activities.

“Influenza does not discriminate,” said Sikora. “Though some Albertans are at greater risk of severe complications, no one is naturally immune to influenza. Please don’t take the risk. Influenza can be one less thing we battle this winter.”

Influenza is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs that is caused by a virus. According to AHS, symptoms start suddenly and may include fever, sore throat, runny nose, cough, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite and feeling tired.

Find a clinic for your family by visiting www.albertahealthservices.ca or by calling Health Link at 811.