COVID-19 or the flu? B.C. physician explains the differences and why the vaccine is important this year

VANCOUVER — Many Metro Vancouver clinics and pharmacies have seen an increased demand for flu vaccines this fall, but one local doctor says everyone who is able to should still aim to get a shot this year.

CTV Morning Live spoke with family physician Dr. Rhonda Low this week, who says the “jump” in demand is specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some doctors and pharmacies quickly ran out of their preliminary supply, public health ordered 30 per cent more vaccines than in previous years, so stocks are slowly being replenished. 

“There should be enough flu shots for everyone that wants one, they’ll be able to get one in the next few weeks,” Low said Monday. “I definitely recommend that folks get it.”

But getting the flu shot might look a little different this year, depending on where it’s being given. Some pharmacies are operating by appointment only, rather than by drop-in. Others have a limited number of vaccines that they’re issuing each day. Meanwhile some places are still offering walk-ins, it’s just best for people to call ahead to know how that location is operating. 

Low said the “million dollar question” she gets asked lately is how to tell the difference between COVID-19 symptoms and the flu. 

“It’s really basically impossible to know without having a test,” she said. 

Low said both COVID-19 and the flu can cause a fever, body aches, shortness of breath and a dry cough. 

However, the incubation period of the flu is quite a bit shorter. Low said people will likely start feeling sick within one to four days of being exposed to the flu.

“But with COVID, the symptoms might not manifest for up to two weeks after you’ve been exposed,” she explained. 

Low also said people with the flu will likely feel sickest in the first week. Those with COVID-19 might actually feel sicker two or three weeks after getting the disease. 

For anyone second-guessing whether it’s worth it to get a vaccine this year, Low said it’s especially important during the pandemic. 

“This is not the year to blow off getting a flu shot,” she said. 

Low explained those who get the flu could be more susceptible to also getting COVID-19, because their immune defences would be hindered. But also, if someone has gotten their flu shot and starts exhibiting symptoms, doctors will more easily be able to determine the person could have COVID-19 instead. 

And for those worried they’ll get the flu from the flu shot? Low said that’s not possible, but feeling some symptoms after getting the vaccine could actually be a positive sign. 

“You cannot get the flu from the flu shot,” she said, adding that the virus is inactive in the dosage. 

“However, especially if it’s the first time you get the flu shot, you could have a little bit of a feverish reaction with a few body aches … this is a good sign because it actually tells you that your immune response is really being shored up to bolster good defences.” 

Dr. Rhonda Low’s comments were part of a six-minute interview on CTV Morning Live. Watch the full interview above. 


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