No vaccine shortage, but wait times could be longer this year: Public Health

·6 min read

As demand increases for the flu shot this year amid a global pandemic, Sudbury residents might face longer wait times, but Public Health insists that there are more than enough vaccines to go around.

Seniors on the lookout for the high-dose vaccine, however, might have to opt for the standard dose as those living in long-term care homes and hospitals will be prioritized.

“Our message is really strong that we want people to get a flu shot. Please don’t delay because you want to get the high-dose. If all that’s available is the standard, then please just get that,” said Karly McGibbon, a public health nurse with Public Health Sudbury and Districts.

“What we don’t want is people thinking they have to wait for the high-dose, and then they wait, and wait, and wait, and then they get sick.”

Sudbury residents have reportedly been having a hard time accessing the high-dose vaccine locally.

“My husband and I are senior citizens and are unable to receive the senior flu shot. I have called 11 different pharmacies including the health unit and not one has this available,” said Nadine Principi in an email to The Sudbury Star.

“We have left our names at different pharmacies, but they have a five-page waiting list. This shot is extremely important to us, and obviously, many seniors.”

According to Public Health Ontario, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization said that the high-dose vaccine, when available, should be administered to those over 65 years of age because it is about 24.2 per cent more effective than the standard dose.

However, there is “sufficient evidence” to recommend the use of the standard dose in seniors, as well.

“Sometimes seniors think that the high-dose is way better, but Public Health’s official stance is that we don’t have a preference. We say any vaccine is good,” said McGibbon.

“The high-dose vaccine is really targeted for places like hospitals and long-term care homes where outbreaks could happen very easily because there are a lot of high-risk people living in close quarters. There are some made available in the community for those who might also be higher risk, but for most people in the community the standard dose will work effectively.”

Seniors should note that it is recommended to get only one flu shot per season.

McGibbon understands that determining whether to wait for the high-dose vaccine might be a “coin toss,” but Public Health would rather seniors be vaccinated with the standard dose compared to no vaccination at all.

Ontario spent $70 million on the province-wide flu immunization plan this year to purchase 50.1 million doses of the flu shot, including 1.3 million high-dose vaccines.

Kingston MPP Ian Arthur recently released a statement on behalf of the NDP asking Premier Doug Ford to take immediate action to provide the province with enough flu vaccines to meet a surge in demand this year.

“People in every part of the province are being turned away because pharmacies don’t have enough vaccines to meet their needs,” said Arthur.

“How did the government go so wrong and fail to be adequately prepared to provide the vaccines that Doug Ford himself asked Ontarians to get, and then force pharmacies to turn them away because of lack of supply?”

Although big drop-in clinics are impossible this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Public Health Sudbury & Districts, family doctors, walk-in clinics, and about 50 local pharmacies are making the flu shot available to the public.

Residents are being advised to call ahead to find out whether their healthcare provider is accepting drop-ins or if they are offering the vaccine by appointment only.

The high-dose vaccine will not be available at the health unit this year; for the first time ever, it will be provided through pharmacies.

“Normally, people would have to come to the health unit for that. This is the first year that pharmacies are giving it,” said McGibbon.

“We received a shipment of the high-dose vaccine, and then Public Health gave that out to hospitals and long-term care homes in the region. Whatever was left, we distributed to family doctors.”

Anyone looking for a high-dose vaccine is encouraged to contact their family doctor to see if they have any available. The health unit also distributes the standard dose vaccine to family doctors and walk-in clinics.

Pharmacies order vaccines directly from their suppliers. To determine the availability of the standard and high-dose vaccines, residents are encouraged to contact pharmacies directly.

If any of these locations are not able to administer the flu vaccine immediately or provide an appointment within the next week, the health unit is advising residents not to panic.

“We aren’t turning people away, but it might take a little bit longer to get a flu shot this year. We just can’t see the volume of people we saw in previous years because of physical distancing,” said McGibbons.

“There is no shortage of flu vaccines. We will receive as much as we’ve received in previous years. It just comes in shipments. We just don’t get it all at once. We receive a shipment, and if that gets used up quickly, we might have to wait a few days for the next shipment to come in.”

McGibbons reminds people that demand is higher this year than it has been in past years, and that there seems to be more urgency to get the vaccine right away.

“When (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau is on the news telling people to go get their flu shot as soon as you can, then people are rushing to get it. But remember, we’re still in October. It’s still early,” she said.

“Flu season is typically from November to April. There is no flu shot deadline – as soon as you are able to get it, you should get it. Now is a good time to start, but if you’re only able to get it mid-November, that’s okay. Just be patient, and don’t panic.”

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe issued a statement this week reminding the public that it’s more important this year to get the flu shot with COVID-19 still circulating in the community.

“The flu shot is safe, free, widely available, and is proven to reduce the number of doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths related to flu,” she said.

“With COVID-19 circulating, we need to do all we can to stay healthy. At this time of the year, in addition to washing your hands, staying home when ill, keeping your distance and masking, this includes getting your free flu shot.”

The flu vaccine protects against influenza A and influenza B: the two strains that cause seasonal epidemics of disease.

Although the flu shot doesn’t provide protection against COVID-19, it is the best defense against the flu and will help keep the public healthy, according to the health unit.

Having COVID-19 and the flu close together, or at the same time, could put people at higher risk for severe illness.

The flu shot will also serve to protect the healthcare system, which might not be able to cope with a surge in both influenza and COVID-19 cases this winter.

For more information, visit https://www.phsd.ca/health-topics-programs/vaccines-immunizations/influenza-vaccine/.

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @SudburyStar

Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star