Many seniors in Nova Scotia looking for greater protection from the seasonal flu than a regular shot provides will continue to have to pay for it themselves.
A high-dose flu vaccine has been available for four years and offers more of an immune boost than the regular vaccine.
The vaccine is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc. CBC checks indicate the retail price per dose ranges from $60 to $100 in Nova Scotia.
The province is providing the vaccine to residents of long-term care facilities but other seniors will have to pay.
Bill VanGorder of CARP says it's a puzzling distinction.
"CARP does not understand why the high-dose [vaccine] isn't available to all at-risk seniors in the entire province," he said. "P.E.I. makes it available to all their seniors. We already put it in our long-term care homes, so we know that it's effective."
He said the COVID-19 pandemic makes it all the more important for seniors to protect their immune systems.
"We know that people, seniors, are in a high-risk category," he said. "If they get COVID, it's extremely dangerous to them. If they already have the regular flu … then they're going to be even in a worse position."
The province says the current policy addresses the most vulnerable seniors.
"Residents aged 65 years and older within these facilities are at an increased risk of influenza and influenza related complications due to age, compromised health status and institutional living environment," the Department of Health and Wellness said in a statement.
It said seniors who are outside care facilities can "choose to purchase the high-dose version through a healthcare provider."
Diane Harpell of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia said seniors who may have to purchase the high-dose vaccine also face an availability problem because it is not part of the public supply.
"So, it is challenging right now to get any supply of high-dose [vaccine]," she said. "So, right now, you're running into issues … where there's not a lot of it available."
She said if pharmacists had access to a public supply of the high-dose vaccine they would "absolutely be ready to provide that service to seniors."
VanGorder said expecting seniors, many of whom are on a fixed income, to shoulder the expense of protecting themselves is unreasonable and unfair.
"if you're on a fixed income, any amount of extra money that you have to pay is a real problem because then you have to make choices, " he said. "If you don't have the money to pay for it, then it's not available to you."
Harpell said the vaccine "isn't cheap" and seniors would also have to pay an administration fee that ranges from $15 to $25.
She noted the regular flu vaccine is still available for seniors who are not able to obtain or afford the high-dose flu shot. She said seniors should check with their health-care provider or pharmacist about options.
Pharmacy association would back program
She said the pharmacy association would support a government-funded program to provide the high-dose vaccine to everyone over 65 who wants it.
"We would absolutely be in favour of providing that," she said. "The key thing that you need to remember, and this is with supply of anything … we need to make sure that [the] supply chain is supported."
VanGorder believes the province's indication that it has no immediate plans to change its current strategy is based on politics and finances and not the recommendations of health officials.
"This is another evidence of ageism in our province," he said.
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