Private flu vaccines not available at Terrace pharmacies

·3 min read

While there is no vaccine for COVID-19 yet, there is a vaccine for influenza and Northern Health is urging people to get one.

Public health officials are concerned that if the flu spreads in communities at the same time as COVID-19, the healthcare system could be overwhelmed.

But people that are not eligible for a free dose could have a hard time accessing a vaccine.

There are five locations in Terrace that can administer the 2020 flu vaccine: Save on Foods Pharmacy, Safeway Pharmacy, Pharmasave and both Shoppers Drug Mart locations.

Those locations only have public vaccines, which can only be accessed by people that meet certain criteria. People at high risk of serious illness from influenza, like children aged six months to five years, pregnant women, seniors, Indigenous people, people who are very obese and people with chronic medical conditions or compromised immune systems are eligible to receive a vaccine for free.

People who are in settings where they are able to transmit the influenza to higher risk groups, people who work with live poultry and essential workers like firefighters and police officers can also get the vaccine for free.

That means some non-Indigenous healthy people over five years old and under 65 years old are required to pay for a private vaccine which, according to Save on Foods pharmacy, cost between $26 and $30. However, Save on Foods pharmacy only has the free public version available. Pharmasave Terrace and the Shoppers Drug Mart on Lakelse Ave. did not order any private doses, and Safeway Pharmacy unsuccessfully tried to obtain private vaccines, but they were back ordered due to high demand.

On Sept. 9, the Province announced that it was spending $18.8 million to build the capacity of the fall flu immunization campaign as part of its fall pandemic preparedness plan and would purchase an additional 450,000 doses, for a total of around 2 million doses. According to public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, that is the highest number of influenza vaccines B.C. has ever acquired.

“Our fall influenza campaign is going to be on a scale that we have not yet seen,” Henry said. “And we encourage everybody who is over the age of six months to be immunized for influenza.”

“We want everyone who is able to have an influenza vaccine to take it this year to protect themselves and their family.”

During the announcement, then-health minister Adrian Dix responded to a question about whether the province would cover the cost of flu vaccines for people that would usually have to pay for it by saying that “the plan is to continue to make the flu vaccine available under the same basis as before.”

Pharmacists that are authorized to administer vaccines order the public variety through Northern Health under the generic name, and the local health unit distributes specific brands based on what is available in its inventory. A pharmacy representative usually picks up the order in person from the health unit.

After administering a vaccination, the pharmacy bills a $12.10 fee to PharmaCare, a publicly funded program that helps B.C. residents with the cost of prescription medication. B.C. residents who are not eligible for a free vaccine cannot receive a dose from the public supply and thus pay for both the dose and administration of private vaccines which must be ordered separately from a vaccine wholesaler.

Seqirius, an influenza vaccine manufacturer, said that it significantly increased the number of doses of vaccines for both public and private markets in B.C. and across Canada compared to last year, but could not comment on the current situation with wholesalers or pharmacies.

The Provincial Health Services Authority said that some employers purchase and provide influenza vaccines to employees, so that could be an option for some people not eligible for a free dose.

Ben Bogstie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Interior News