With summer in its dying days and flu season looming, public health programs countrywide are gearing up for the push to inject millions of doses of flu vaccine into arms.
A new study suggests those arms are more likely to belong to Canadians of a variety of ethnic backgrounds — Filipino, Japanese, Chinese and southeast Asian among them — than to Canadians who describe themselves as white or black.
In fact, of 12 ethnic groups, all were more likely to get a flu shot than white or black Canadians. Those two groups were essentially equally likely — or unlikely — to agree to get a flu shot, the study found.
Lead study author Susan Quach admits the results came as a surprise.
She and her co-authors are not entirely clear what's behind the finding. One idea is that some ethnic communities may be "shielded" to a degree from anti-vaccination messages.
"One of the things we thought it could be related to was just exposure to the anti-vaccination media," says Quach, a research associate at Public Health Ontario who specializes in influenza studies.
"They might have less exposure to this due to language issues, or where they seek health information. They might be influenced by family and health professionals differently on decisions about vaccinations versus other groups."
The findings may help officials who devise health policy and people who craft public health messaging to figure out how to reach more people when provinces and territories announce they are offering flu shots.
Those announcements are coming soon. Flu shot programs will start within the three to six weeks, depending on the jurisdiction. For instance, British Columbia hopes to start delivering vaccine in mid-October, says Dr. Perry Kendall, the province's chief medical officer of health.
Manitoba's program is aiming to start in early to mid-October, when Ontario plans to kick off its effort. Saskatchewan expects to start vaccinating in late October. Precise timing and delivery location information can be obtained from each provincial or territorial ministry of health.
Most jurisdictions in Canada offer shots for free to all. The four that don't — British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador — still provide free vaccines to a range of people, including the elderly, people with chronic conditions, young children and household contacts of those people.
And this year in a Canadian first, B.C. is requiring health-care workers to be vaccinated, or to wear masks during flu season.
The flu shot study, published in this week's Canadian Medical Association Journal, used data collected through Statistics Canada's Canadian Community Health Survey.