Peel Public Health recommends layers of protection for respiratory illness season

As the weather gets colder and people move indoors, the risk of catching viruses like the flu, COVID-19, or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) increases. No single measure on its own is 100% effective at preventing the spread of respiratory infections but practicing them all together provides the best protection. In the community, this includes:

  • Stay home when sick, and if unable to stay home, wear a mask and avoid vulnerable populations.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hand.
  • Consider wearing a mask indoors, especially in crowded spaces where you can’t keep a safe and comfortable distance from others.
  • Get vaccinated and stay up to date with vaccinations. Vaccines help lower the risk of infection, work to reduce severe outcomes if infected, and aid your body’s natural defences to develop protection against disease.

Peel Public Health’s webpage dedicated to respiratory illness season will be updated throughout the fall and winter.

Flu vaccine

The flu vaccine is free for Ontarians 6 months or older, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. You do not need an Ontario health card to get the vaccine. The flu vaccine is currently available to people at a higher risk of getting severely sick from the flu infection. Initial doses are prioritized for:

  • Hospitalized individuals and hospital staff.
  • Long-Term Care Home and Elder Care Lodge residents, staff, and caregivers.
  • Health care workers and first responders.
  • Residents and staff of congregate living settings (e.g., chronic care facilities, retirement homes).
  • People 65 years or older.
  • Pregnant individuals.
  • Children 6 months to 4 years.
  • Individuals from a First Nation, Inuit or Métis community or who self-identify as First Nation, Inuit or Métis, and their household members.
  • Members of racialized and other equity-deserving communities.
  • Anyone 6 months or older with chronic health conditions.

Starting October 30, anyone 6 months or older can get the flu vaccine. Make an appointment to get the flu vaccine at:

  • Family doctors and walk-in clinics for adults and children 6 months or older.
  • Participating pharmacies for adults and children 2 years or older.
  • Individuals without a health card can receive the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine from a community health centre or local pharmacy and at Peel Public Health clinics.
  • Peel Public Health clinics – Starting October 30, anyone over 2 years of age can get their COVID-19 and flu vaccines at Peel Public Health clinics. Peel Public Health clinics will offer the standard dose flu vaccine, not the high-dose or adjuvanted formulations. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about the high-dose or adjuvanted influenza vaccine. You can book appointments online or by calling 905-799-7700 for Brampton and Mississauga residents, or 905-584-2216 for Caledon residents.

You can receive the flu vaccine at the same time, or any time before or after a COVID-19 vaccine. Refer to where to get the flu vaccine for more information.

COVID-19 vaccine

The updated COVID-19 vaccine (XBB.1.5) is now available for people at a high risk of getting severely sick from the virus. Initial doses are being prioritized for the same groups being prioritized to receive the flu vaccine.

Starting October 30, anyone 2 years or older can get the COVID-19 vaccine at Peel Public Health vaccine clinics.

COVID-19 vaccines are free to anyone 6 months or older in Ontario, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. You do not need an Ontario health card to get the vaccine. Appointments can be booked on Ontario’s vaccine booking website.

In addition to Peel Public Health vaccine clinics, some pharmacies, doctor’s offices, walk-in clinics and other providers across Peel offer the COVID-19 vaccine. Find a pharmacy location here and a primary care provider here.

COVID-19 testing

There are 2 main types of COVID-19 tests in Ontario:

  • Molecular tests, which include Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests.
  • Rapid antigen tests (RATs).

PCR tests need to be processed in a lab. Samples can be collected by a health care professional or at home using a self-collection lab-based PCR kit. In Ontario, publicly funded PCR tests are only available to eligible individuals. Find out if you’re eligible for a PCR test and where you can access a test.

Rapid antigen tests can be done at home, give results quickly and do not require processing by a lab. The Ontario government is making rapid antigen tests available for an extended time. Learn more about rapid testing for at home use.

To support ongoing access to COVID-19 testing through the fall and winter seasons, Peel Region will distribute free rapid antigen test kits to the public (1 to 2 kits per person).

They can be picked up at these Access Peel counters:

  • 10 Peel Centre Drive, Suite B, Brampton
  • 7120 Hurontario Street, Mississauga

Residents who test positive for COVID-19 are reminded that they may be eligible for treatment. To be most effective, these medications need to be taken within five to seven days of when symptoms start.

If you tested positive, have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19, follow directions from the Ontario government.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Through the Ontario government’s High-Risk Older Adults RSV Vaccine Program, adults 60 years or older residing in long-term care homes, Elder Care Lodges, and some retirement homes may be eligible for the RSV vaccine, Arexvy. If adults 60 years or older don’t qualify for the free RSV vaccine, they can still purchase it with a prescription from their family doctor or other primary care provider.

Visit Health811 online or call 811 (TTY 1-866-797-0007) for health advice and information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Respiratory illness season isn’t new; it happens every year. We encourage residents to assess their own risk and situation to use the protective measures that will work best for them and their loved ones, including the recommendation for vaccination. Peel Public Health works with partners across the health care system, such as pharmacies and primary care providers, to ensure convenient access to those seeking a vaccine. This is the first year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that Peel Public Health clinics are offering the flu vaccine, and we’re hopeful that residents will take advantage of the many options to get a flu and COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Kate Bingham, Acting Medical Officer of Health, Peel Public Health