The B.C. Pharmacy Association alerted members this week that flu shots held by distributors are depleted with no further doses expected, but the head of the province’s immunization program said 700,000 doses remain and that should be enough.
And if it’s not enough, B.C. could contact other provinces and see if they have excess supply, said Penny Ballem, the province’s executive lead for immunization programs.
In B.C. the flu shot is free to anyone six months and older through pharmacies, health authority clinics and to a lesser degree family physician offices. They can be booked online at getvaccinated.gov.bc.ca. People can receive their COVID-19 booster and flu shot in the same appointment.
“We’re keeping a very close eye on it and if we think that the demand continues … and we think we might run out before people have gotten a vaccine that they want, we’ll take steps to try and address that,” Ballem said in an interview Wednesday.
Ballem said the Health Ministry originally ordered 1.8 million flu doses followed by an extra order of 210,000.
About 1.35 million flu shots have already been given this flu season, which was the total for all of last season.
Bookings are nearly full for the next three weeks.
“We’re still going full-tilt boogie,” said Ballem. “We’re planning to do about 90,000 more flu shots this week.”
Of the 2,010,000 doses, about 100,000 were kept as a contingency by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
Half of the remainder was sent to six pharmacy distributors — McKesson Canada being the largest — who service 1,300 pharmacies around B.C.
The other half was sent to health authorities who gave a small supply, about 170,000 doses, to doctors’ offices.
The B.C. Pharmacy Association sent an update this week to say “vaccine supply has been completely or nearly completely depleted from most distributors.”
The update said there are “no further vaccines expected to arrive in the province for this year’s flu campaign.”
Pharmacy Association spokesperson Angie Gaddy said influenza vaccines are now stocked at the community pharmacy level — not at the distributor level. There’s “more than enough supply in pharmacies to meet the forecasted demand for influenza vaccines this year,” she said. The flu shot program runs until April but there’s usually a tapering off in demand by the end of November or early December, Gaddy said. “The demand this year has come down dramatically since the early peak, which is typical of the annual flu campaign.”
Flu shot capacity and demand is reviewed twice a day and supplies are shifted to where they are needed, said Ballem. “My goal is to use it all,” she said. “And if we get to the point where we think we need to bring in more, we’ll go to our neighbouring provinces … that’s the kind of thing that happens all the time across the country … that’s where the federation works really well.”
Ballem said not enough children age six months to four years have received their flu shots. This demographic, along with seniors, are the most vulnerable to serious complications and hospitalization due to the flu, she said.
While about 48 per cent of seniors age 65 and older have recieved a flu shot — one of the highest rates of uptake — only 34,000 children, or about one-seventh in this age group, have received a flu shot through health authority clinics and doctors’ offices.
“We are waiting for you in health authority clinics, we want you to get your small children, especially, vaccinated,” said Ballem.
Ballem said despite initial glitches and a “rocky start” in the province’s online registration and booking system, it’s now humming along.
B.C. has one online system and call centre to book appointments, change appointments, remind people of appointments and track immunizations. “There’s none of the big provinces that has the capacity to book an appointment in any pharmacy, any health authority clinic, and get your shot documented and into the provincial registry by midnight. Nobody’s doing that, we’re the only one.”
Anyone interested in a flu shot can book one by registering at getvaccinated.gov.bc.ca or calling toll free 1-833-838-2323.