SASKATOON -- Saskatoon pharmacist Graham Houk says it’s especially important to get your flu shot this fall, as both seasonal influenza and COVID-19 circulate in the population.

“We’ve made it convenient, we’ve made it safe for patients to get these flu shots in pharmacies. We’ve upped a lot of our cleaning, our sanitizing, our universal precautions with people so they can feel comfortable, they can feel safe coming to a pharmacy to be vaccinated for the flu this year,” said Houk, who has worked with Loblaw’s pharmacies for eight years.

He noted two main concerns of the so-called twindemic.

“One is because the flu and COVID-19 share some similar symptoms, we run the risk of overloading our healthcare system with people unsure, is it the flu, is it COVID-19. The second concern is that people that come down with the flu, that become ill with the flu, that is a predisposing factor to potentially allowing a COVID-19 infection on top of that, which could make things worse for them.”

Even though the flu vaccine isn’t going to prevent COVID-19, it will help alleviate worries about double infection, he said.

“Ultimately, when we talk about the twindemic, we are trying to protect our health care system from becoming overwhelmed.”

About 3,500 people die in Canada each year from the flu, with 12,000 to 13,000 people hospitalized, he said. Canada has seen 191,732 COVID-19 cases to date, with 9,699 deaths.

The long term implications of a COVID-19 infection aren’t known, he said.

“Hypothetically, a person comes down with COVID-19, has minor, moderate symptoms, they recover, what are the ramifications down the road? We don’t know that. So at the end of the day we're really just out here trying to help people understand that reducing your chance of infection is your best step.”

Many of the symptoms can be similar between the two illnesses - it can be tricky to tell the difference, he said.

“Both the flu and COVID-19, you’re going to have tiredness, fatigue, fever. The big difference that some people with COVID-19 are presenting with is shortness of breath. The flu doesn’t generally present with shortness of breath.

“But regardless of which symptoms you have, if you have symptoms which are worrisome which you may think are COVID-19, we ask that you immediately reduce your contact with individuals and reach out to the appropriate health care professionals.”

Flu clinics will begin on Monday.