The Fraser Health region is running low on regular flu vaccination shots, according to the head of B.C.'s association for doctors — even though the provincial health officer says she is not aware of any shortage and more doses are on the way.
Doctors of B.C. president Dr. Kathleen Ross said despite efforts to provide 30 per cent more doses than last year in the region — equivalent to around 70,000 more shots — demand is high.
"There just doesn't seem to be the supply to meet the demand," said Ross, who works as a doctor in the Fraser Health region and is a member of the Fraser Health Community Flu Working Group.
She said doctors are trying to prioritize the remaining doses for people at highest risk until it's clear that more supply is coming. She said there are still appointments for shots available at this point, and she has been told that the province is working hard to supply the additional doses needed.
"I don't think we need to institute widespread panic, but I would like to try to see the remaining vaccines go to people who are most at risk," she said, adding "everything in our power" must be done to reduce hospital admissions due to the flu.
Figures from the latest report by the flu working group confirm that 514,000 vaccines have been distributed in the region, but there's a request for an additional 85,000-90,000 more doses, according to Doctors of B.C.
At this point, Ross said the 514,000 doses the region has distributed are about 90 per cent of its allotment of publicly funded vaccines from the province, with 10 per cent left to come in the next few weeks.
"We will get that out and into people's arms as quick as we can. Our government was forward thinking in ordering 30 per cent more of the vaccine. I think the demand was higher than we anticipated," said Ross.
Responding to reports of vaccine stocks running low during her daily briefing Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there did not appear to be a shortfall, and that additional doses would be arriving at the end of November and into December.
"We are not aware of a shortage of supply in the health authorities at the moment. We have over 1.5 million doses that are out there in various situations and we know the health authority clinics continue," Henry said.
But she said there have been issues with individual practices and pharmacies seeing high demand and quickly running through their allocated supply.
"Where the challenge has been is that in some places the allotment that goes to pharmacies and physician's offices has run through, that they've used up their doses," Henry said.
Some members of the public have reported that their planned inoculations have been cancelled.
Concerned about possible vaccine shortages, Ian Smith booked ahead to get shots for his family at a Rexall pharmacy flu clinic in Surrey last Friday. The appointment was cancelled on the day of the appointment due to a lack of vaccines.
Smith thought the issue was just with Rexall and was surprised to learn it went further.
"We were very, very disappointed … and I am shocked. All the messaging seemed to be quite clear that we are well stocked and well prepared," said Smith, who had chosen to book an appointment instead of doing a walk-in because he thought he would be more likely to get the vaccine that way.
"We could have had it a few weeks ago if we'd just done a walk-in in the first place," said Smith, who says he wants to keep his elderly parents safe by staying flu and COVID free.
In Ontario, Rexall temporarily paused its flu shot program in early November after strong demand led to shortages of the vaccine.
Ross said southern parts of the world have seen a milder flu season, so the hope is the same happens here. Public health measures for COVID-19 — such as handwashing, wearing face masks and physical distancing — will also help curb the spread of flu, she said.
In an emailed statement, Fraser Health noted there is a provincial approach to influenza vaccine distribution and the province disseminates the vaccine to health authorities over the course of the flu season.
"We have distributed the supply we have been provided to our community vaccine providers and our public health units," it said. "We have distributed nearly as much influenza vaccine so far as we did during the entire influenza season last year. In addition, we are actively working with our partners to secure additional flu vaccine doses as needed."