A southwestern Ontario family is calling for a needle-free flu vaccine to be publicly funded again so it's a real option for children this flu season.
Ryan McClanahan has been trying to buy a nasal spray, such as FluMist, but says it's impossible to find for his nine-year-old son, who has a fear of needles.
The Ontario Ministry of Health says on its website the spray can be purchased at pharmacies, but the Chatham-Kent man says he can't find it, despite calling multiple stores in his own city, London and Windsor.
"I think the government is really missing an opportunity here when we think about the fact that they're currently dealing with a health-care crisis," he said. "It's a bit of a puzzle. Why, if we have more tools available in our toolkit, are we not using them?"
Ontario is bracing for cases of the flu to be high this year, while pediatric intensive-care units are already seeing a surge in children fighting respiratory illnesses.
The province said FluMist and other nasal sprays won't be publicly funded this season, and it hasn't covered them for several years. A spokesperson with the Ministry of Health was not able to say when it was last covered, but directed people to pharmacies.
"Technically pharmacists don't have the scope to administer the FluMist vaccine because it's not part of the publicly funded program," said Angeline Ng of the Ontario Pharmacists Association. "Instead of being able to administer that at the pharmacy, you would have to get a prescription.
"It's kind of confusing because a few years ago we could administer it," she said.
Dose packaging is also an issue for some pharmacies, Ng said, because wholesalers typically sell it in packs of 10.
"If they don't have another nine patients to dispense those other doses to, those nine doses would sort of go to waste."
In an email to CBC News, the ministry said, "The decision to publicly fund vaccines is determined by factors such as scientific evidence (e.g., burden of disease and vaccine effectiveness), economic and societal factors, as well as available cost effectiveness information and impact on the health system."
"For us, getting the flu vaccine through the nasal mist is a no-brainer," McClanahan said. "It's a completely different experience than trying to do it through a needle injection."
While he said he would be willing to pay out of pocket if he could find a pharmacist who carried it, McClanaghan said getting a price for one dose has also been impossible. He said one pharmacist told him 10 doses could cost upwards of $350 from the wholesaler.
"We've been told by the pharmacies that there's a cost to carrying it that's higher, and it doesn't have a long shelf life, and they don't get a lot of uptake" McClanaghan said.
Ways to help with needle anxiety
"It's always a bit nerve wracking to get a needle," said Dr. Alex Summers, Middlesex-London Health Unit's medical officer of health.
Summers offered tips for parents hoping to ease their children's nerves around vaccines:
Go to the clinic with excited energy that you're doing something really good for their health.
Talk to your child about what's happening. You don't need to surprise them.
During the vaccination, distract them with a toy or screen to take their mind off of what's happening.
Celebrate the win afterwards with a treat.
"It's important that everybody gets vaccinated for influenza every year. By getting vaccinated, you protect yourself against not only getting infected, but the most severe symptoms of influenza," Summers said.
For the McClanahan family, the search for FluMist will continue, but they will book a flu shot if it comes up dry.
"If we can't find the flu mist this year, and that's what we've done in past years, we'll work on our strategies and get ready and practise and get our regular vaccine," McClanahan said.