The Yukon government will soon cover some peoples' inoculation against shingles.
As of Jan. 1, 2021, shingles vaccines will be available free-of-charge at Yukon pharmacies and community health centres for any Yukoners aged 65 to 70.
The policy is rare in Canada. Currently only the Ontario government covers those fees for older adults, also in the same age range.
The territory's measure covers a vaccine called Shingrix which is considered more than 90 per cent effective by Health Canada.
Each dose of Shingrix costs about $200 in Yukon and requires two doses to work.
Benton Foster, director of community health programs with Yukon Health and Social Services says the territory expects about 1000 people will benefit.
The policy will apply both to people with and without insurance and will require no up-front payment.
Health insurance companies will not be billed as the the government will be covering all fees.
Painful condition disproportionately affects older people
Nearly 1 in 3 Canadians will develop shingles within their lifetime.
It is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox vaccine and causes blisters and scabbing.
The condition is more common among older people but can affect younger people as well.
One group says more seniors should be included.
Lillian Nakamura Maguire, co-chair of Seniors' Action Yukon, has seen family members and friends suffer from shingles. She said it's very serious condition, from which pain can continue for months and even years.
"This is not something that should be sloughed off," she said. "For older people it's very difficult for them to handle."
Nakamura Maguire says that Seniors' Action Yukon welcomes the subsidy but questions why it is limited to a five-year age range.
She believes that expanding the subsidy could reduce medical costs over time.
"The cut-off of 70 to me is really unfortunate because we're putting people at risk who are over 70. I hope they reconsider that limitation," she said.
Opposition health critic wants more done
Yukon's official opposition says the funding doesn't go far enough.
The Yukon Party notes that health critic and MLA Patti McLeod raised the issue in the Legislative Assembly in 2018.
"While I am glad that the government is finally making a decision I am disappointed it took them over two years to listen to repeated requests from Yukoners for this important vaccine," said McLeod.
The opposition also takes issue with the limited eligibility for the subsidy.
"Health Canada recommends that this vaccine be available to anybody that is 50 years or older. I don't know why the government has picked this particular age group," McLeod said.
Foster says the window was chosen because that is the age at which the vaccine is most effective.
"The vaccine has a high impact on this age group. People in this age group are more likely to get shingles and have hospitalizations from it," Foster said.
The Yukon government is also urging Yukoners to get a flu vaccine this year.
Both vaccines will be available in pharmacies, which is possible due to recent changes in law.