Frustration grows as flu vaccine supply shrinks in Ottawa

·3 min read
Frustration grows as flu vaccine supply shrinks in Ottawa
Frustration grows as flu vaccine supply shrinks in Ottawa

Some people in Ottawa are having a hard time getting their annual flu shot in a year of unprecedented demand.

Elizabeth Sweeney was especially frustrated that the appointment she booked for herself, her spouse and their child at an Ottawa Rexall Pharmacy was cancelled at the last minute Thursday.

"We've called every pharmacy in Ottawa and there aren't any vaccines to be had, and we're a hot spot. How can that be? I'm really frustrated," Sweeney said.

"How many times am I going to have to spend my morning searching for appointments to then have them cancelled, and then search for them again?"

She said the experience adds yet another layer of stress for families already dealing with the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Rexall said it will reschedule appointments once more doses become available, but supply is determined by Ontario's Ministry of Health.

The ministry has ordered 5.1 million doses across the province and sent 800,000 units to pharmacies to date.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association said demand this year is like no other.

"We're seeing unprecedented demand, upwards of a 500 per cent increase when compared to this time last year," said Justin Bates, the association's CEO.

He said concern about a "twindemic" — a combination of seasonal flu and COVID-19 cases overwhelming the health-care system — has led to more people booking appointments earlier.

Family doctors have also been referring some of their patients to pharmacies because of pandemic-related restrictions to their own practices, Bates said.

"We're doing our best to manage the supply that we have. It's a challenge to all of us. We don't want people to get so frustrated that they don't get the vaccine," Bates said.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) said it has enough doses for everybody who had booked an appointment by Thursday afternoon, with slots still available.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC
Matthew Kupfer/CBC

Marie-Claude Turcotte, manager of OPH's vaccine program, said it's also seeing a major surge in demand.

"Last year, Ottawa Public Health immunized throughout the whole flu season ... a little over 11,000 people, and this year, just in the first week of our six clinics, we have over 10,000 appointments booked," Turcotte said.

Turcotte said OPH is managing its supply from the province as well as distributing to family doctors, with a focus on long-term care homes and hospitals, where populations are most vulnerable.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC
Matthew Kupfer/CBC

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth said while the OPH clinics are a help, she's facing a shortage of doses and other supplies at her own clinic.

She said she received fewer than 150 doses, including both single-dose and double-dose shots for seniors, though she has 1,400 patients. She said many other family doctors are in the same position.

"This is great, but it's not enough," Kaplan-Myrth said. "It's not enough until every family practice and every pediatrician has what they need to provide every patient with the flu vaccine."