Navigating the 2023 Flu Season: What Pharmacies Need to Know

Godwin Chan

November 14, 2023

As the flu season unfolds, we at MedMe are dedicated to supporting pharmacies’ efforts in vaccinating as many Canadians as possible. In this blog post, we’re excited to share our insights on the new RSV and XBB Monovalent vaccines and effective flu marketing strategies.

Hey Pharmacy Community!

As the flu season unfolds, we at MedMe are dedicated to supporting pharmacies’ efforts in vaccinating as many Canadians as possible. In this blog post, we’re excited to share our insights on the new RSV and XBB Monovalent vaccines and effective flu marketing strategies. Let’s dive in!

RSV

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a common and highly contagious respiratory virus that infects the lungs and airways. In Canada, RSV causes annual outbreaks of respiratory infections from late fall to early spring, with most cases occurring during the winter months. Because primary infection produces only partial and temporary immunity, reinfection with RSV happens frequently, but illness is usually less severe with each subsequent infection.

RSV infection can occur at any age but is most often seen in infants, young children, and older adults. Most folks infected with RSV will experience mild symptoms similar to a cold or flu, such as coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, fever, wheezing, fatigue, headache, a sore throat, and irritability. However, RSV infection can cause more severe respiratory illness and exacerbate existing conditions in children and older adults. In particular, older adults who experience a natural decrease in immunity due to aging, those already with weakened immune systems, and those with underlying chronic conditions such as lung disease (i.e. asthma and COPD), heart disease, metabolic disease (i.e. diabetes), and advanced liver and kidney disease are at higher risk of severe outcomes from RSV infection. These include pneumonia, new or worsening of underlying chronic conditions such as asthma, COPD, and congestive heart failure, and heart attack and stroke that can lead to hospitalization or even death.

RSV is spread through respiratory particles containing the virus and touching contaminated surfaces, both of which are caused by being in the vicinity of someone who has RSV and is coughing or sneezing. On average, a person is contagious for 8 days and they’re diagnosed with RSV via a nasopharyngeal swab and PCR test.

For treatment, the vast majority of healthy children and adults will recover on their own within 1-2 weeks. To manage symptoms associated with RSV such as fever, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be used. As RSV is a viral infection, antibiotics will not help with treatment. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids and get adequate rest to expedite the healing process. If someone is experiencing severe RSV in the form of breathing difficulties, repeated vomiting and diarrhea, or extreme dehydration, they may need to be brought to the hospital for oxygen and supportive care.

The most effective ways to prevent RSV transmission include the following: Staying home if the individual or someone they’re taking care of is ill, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, washing hands and cleaning surfaces regularly, coughing or sneezing into arms instead of hands, and putting used tissues in the garbage right away.

On August 4, 2023, Health Canada approved the first vaccine for RSV for adults aged 60 and over called Arexvy, manufactured by GSK. Arexvy is approved for the prevention of lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV by helping the body make antibodies and white blood cells against RSV. Approval of Arexvy was predicated on the completion of a comprehensive Phase III clinical trial that demonstrated a high vaccine efficacy of 82.6% for the prevention of lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV in older adults and 94.6% in those with pre-existing chronic conditions.

Arexvy is available as a suspension that is reconstituted for intramuscular injection as a single dose. The most common adverse effects that have been observed with Arexvy administration include injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, and fever, all of which are mild to moderate and transient in nature. Arexvy is currently available in limited quantities in pharmacies and clinics across Canada, but it’s not publicly funded in most provinces (one exception being Ontario, where it’s covered for adults aged 60 and over who are living in long-term care homes, Elder Care Lodges, and some retirement homes). This means that most older Canadians have to cover the cost of Arexvy out-of-pocket, which costs around $200-$300 a dose (some private insurance companies may cover the cost or a portion of it).

XBB

Two new COVID-19 monovalent vaccines were approved by Health Canada to replace the bivalent COVID-19 booster doses: Moderna Spikevax XBB.1.5 (September 12, 2023) and Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty XBB.1.5 (September 28, 2023). Both monovalent vaccines only target the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant of COVID-19 that has been predominantly circulating in 2023.

Both monovalent vaccines have been approved for people who are 6 months old and over and should be given at least 6 months after a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or positive COVID-19 infection. The monovalent vaccines are given as a single intramuscular dose, and dosage varies among different age groups (i.e. 12 years and older, 5 to 11 years, 6 months to 4 years). Common adverse effects are mild and can include injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, and fever, similar to previous COVID-19 vaccines.

The new COVID-19 XBB.1.5 vaccines are now available at your local pharmacy or clinic in Canada. You can also get the new COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time! Please contact your pharmacy or clinic on how you can get both vaccines.

Marketing Support

Why should a brick-and-mortar pharmacy care about their online presence? In short, it helps pharmacies increase sales and revenue, heighten brand awareness, and improve the patient experience by connecting with them outside of the physical store. Digital marketing channels that pharmacies can leverage include a website, email, and social media.

The majority of patients first find a pharmacy nowadays through a simple Google or other search engine query. Immediately, the first thing that usually comes up in the search results is a Google Business profile, which includes information like the pharmacy name, address, phone number, website, images, reviews, and services. A pharmacy should also ensure that they have their Google Business profile set up and updated periodically.

The pharmacy website is an extension of their Google Business profile because it includes more information about the pharmacy, the products and services they offer, and the ability for patients to book services and appointments directly from the website via MedMe (e.g. flu shots, minor ailments). Ensure that the pharmacy website appears on top of search engine results through search engine optimization (SEO).

Email is the most direct way to connect with patients to let them know about the pharmacy’s services. Social media is an indirect way of connecting with patients but nevertheless effective (Facebook and Instagram will suffice in reaching most patients). In both cases, it’s important to maintain a regular cadence in publishing content (e.g. once every two weeks) and engage with patients who email back or comment on social media posts.

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WRITTEN BY:

Godwin Chan

Godwin is MedMe's Product Marketer. He has a background in pharma and biotech and experiences in startup operations, angel investing, and content creation.