B.C. seniors will have to wait longer for a flu vaccine that offers better protection

Seniors in B.C. will have to wait longer for a flu vaccine that offers them better protection, because the province doesn't cover the vaccine, according to the vaccine's manufacturer.

The Fluzone High-Dose vaccine isn't expected to land on shelves in B.C. until the end of November or early December, the B.C. Pharmacy Association said Tuesday.

Standard vaccines are expected to arrive this month.

The vaccine, which Health Canada approved in 2015 for use in people aged 65 and older, contains four times the antigen of a standard flu vaccine and produces a stronger immune response in seniors.

A 2014 study found the high-dose vaccine to be 24 per cent more effective in preventing the flu than standard vaccines in adults 65 or older.

Seniors are more vulnerable to the flu because of their weaker immune systems. Adults 65 and older accounted for up to 90 per cent of seasonal flu-related deaths in recent years, and up to 70 per cent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

B.C. covers standard flu vaccines but does not publicly fund the high-dose version. Pharmacies in the province charge $75 for the shot.

The vaccine's manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, said it prioritizes delivery of vaccines to provinces and territories that publicly cover the vaccine, including Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Ontario is the only province that offers the vaccines to all seniors. The other provinces and territories distribute the vaccines to people living in long-term care.

The manufacturer said Tuesday it has delivered all public market orders received to date.

"As B.C. does not have a high-dose public program in place, we only supply limited volumes of flu vaccine to the private market in that province."

Sanofi said it's expediting vaccine delivery in time to meet peak flu activity between December and February.

Not enough evidence to justify cost: B.C. government

Doug Rushton, who lives in North Vancouver, said he's hoping to get the high-dose vaccine for the first time this year after suffering two bouts of pneumonia in the past two years.

But when the 69-year-old contacted several local pharmacies Monday, Rushton said he was told the shipment was delayed. 

CBC News contacted a dozen pharmacies in Metro Vancouver. None had the high-dose flu vaccine in stock and most were unclear about when they would receive it.

A spokesperson for Shoppers Drug Mart confirmed its pharmacies are set to receive the vaccines in early December.

Eloy Alonso/Reuters

Rushton said he's frustrated that health officials recommend the vaccine, but the B.C. government won't cover it.

"They're basically recommending that people like me use the vaccine, but at the same saying, 'We can't get it. Take the regular one and never mind,'" he said.

A spokesperson with B.C's health ministry said it won't cover the vaccine at the recommendation of the federal government's National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

That committee said there's insufficient evidence about the vaccine's benefits to justify its costs. It found 200 people would need to be immunized with the high-dose vaccine to prevent one case of the flu. 

Rushton said he's now wondering whether to opt for the standard vaccine sooner and get a high-dose vaccine later.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said it does not recommend double dousing in the same flu season.