Ontario pharmacies struggle to meet flu shot demand

by | Dec 4, 2020 | Headlines, News

High demand and a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have left Ontario pharmacies with shortages of flu vaccine.

Ian Culbert, a member of the Canadian Public Health Association, said many people booked appointments as early as October for flu shots this year and the demand has depleted vaccine supplies.

“There is some availability but not a large amount, unusually, when we hit our distribution from mid-November to mid-December,” he said.

The federal government ordered 15 per cent more vaccine this year than it did in 2019. Culbert said both the federal and provincial governments need to communicate clearly where supplies are available to “reduce the anxiety people feel.”

In some quarters, there is still wariness about the vaccine’s potential side effects or limited effectiveness, some experts say.

Dr. Mina Tadrous of Women’s College Hospital in Toronto said the worry is usually based on a lack of information or full understanding of the benefits of vaccination.

“I think COVID-19 is teaching all of us a lot about how viruses work and how lucky we are to have a vaccine for things,” he said.

“The fact that we have a flu shot every year that keeps up to date with the shifts and drifts (of the) virus itself is remarkable,” Tadrous said.

Christian Hasse, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Government Services, said the flu season puts pressure on the province’s health system every year and there is a higher risk this year as a result of COVID-19.

“The province has invested nearly $70 million to purchase flu vaccines to deliver a robust and expanding campaign this year, prioritizing vulnerable populations in our long-term care homes, hospitals, and other settings,” Hasse said in a news release.

The campaign resulted in more Ontarians getting the flu vaccine earlier this year and fewer than usual influenza cases being reported.

“As of Nov. 12, more than 5.2 million doses of the flu vaccine have been distributed, a million more than the same time last year,” Hasse said in an email statement.

Hasse said Ontario, like other provinces and territories, is seeking more doses of the influenza vaccine as part of the national bulk-procurement program.

“We are engaging in conversations with our sector partners regarding additional opportunities to procure supply beyond the historical levels that have been distributed to Ontarians,” Hasse said.