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Early rush on flu shots taps local supply

'There’s not a shortage, but the demand is greater,' says health unit official; Shoppers Drug Mart on Front Street has vaccine in supply
injection needle vaccine
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A rush on flu shots drained the supply of most of the local drug stores over the weekend, although many were being resupplied Monday.

Health officials say despite an increased demand, there is a more than adequate supply of the vaccine available and no expectation of shortages in the long run.

The early rush for protection against influenza is believed to almost certainly be linked to the current health pandemic. Officials point out that although the symptoms for the flu and COVID-19 are similar, the flu shot will not prevent anyone from contracting COVID-19.

“The demand is so great… it looks like there’s a shortage, when, in fact, it’s not,” said Deanne Thompson, manager of the immunization program for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

Any shortage of supply, she said, is temporary.

“We will be able to order additional doses in our local community as we request it," Thompson said. 

She said Ontario has six times the supply so far this year than it did two years ago. By the end of last week, Ontario pharmacies had received 300,000 doses, compared to 50,000 during the winter of 2018-19.

“What we’re seeing is the struggle to keep up with the distribution of it” from the manufacturer to stores across the province," Thompson said. “So there’s not a shortage, but the demand is greater.

“As we roll out, we need people to be patient. We only have so many fridges where we can store the vaccine," she added. 

In fact, the province is calling it the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history, with  5.1 million flu vaccine doses on order, in partnership with the federal government and other provinces and territories.

Ontario Ministry of Health spokesman David Jensen said that’s 700,000 more doses than last year.

“Early distribution of the vaccine has been prioritized for vulnerable populations in long-term care homes, hospitals, and other vulnerable settings,” he said.

“Broader community distribution of the flu shot, including to primary care providers and pharmacies, is currently being rolled out and will continue in the coming weeks, and quantities at locations may vary based on the initial shipment and early demand," Jensen added. 

The vaccines don’t all arrive at once due to limited refrigeration ability. Vaccine stability is between 2C and 8C. In addition, fridge space is also being used to store other vaccines.

To avoid spoilage, they are sent on set schedules in co-ordination with Health Canada.

The vaccines don’t all arrive at once due to limited refrigeration ability. Vaccine stability is between 2C and 8C. In addition, fridge space is also being used to store other vaccines.

The focus early in the season is to provide the flu shot to the highest risk community members first and by the end of October, early November, it becomes more readily available to the public, Thompson said.

Family health teams are also coming online this year in a combined battle against influenza.

“You will see that there will be more availability of vaccines now. We got our vaccine out to our hospitals and long-term care and our rest and retirement homes. And all the pharmacies across the province are starting to get more vaccines in this week, as are we,” she said.

Now the focus is on rolling out larger scale mass immunization clinics for the flu. Thompson said local family health-care teams have started pooling their resources to offer clinics for their patients, which is new for this year.

“With COVID, everyone wants to come together, work together, and protect our population,” she said.

As COVID-19 continues to spread in the community with no vaccine yet readily available, there is an increased interest in access to protection from influenza, she added.

Flu shots will be available right through until March.

A quick survey of the Shoppers Drug Mart flu shot finder Monday showed that flu shots were available in Barrie only at the chain’s Bayfield Street and Georgian Mall stores. The vaccine wasn’t available at other Barrie and area Shoppers stores, including Collingwood, Penetanguishene, Midland, Angus, Innisfil, Alliston, Beeton, Bradford, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Newmarket, Aurora and Keswick. 

The Wasaga Beach store did have vaccines in supply, as did Orillia’s Front Street North and Huntsville stores.

Local Rexall stores reported they had just received a resupply and advised that customers were encouraged to register online for their flu shots.

About the Author: Marg. Bruineman

Marg. Buineman is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering justice issues based out of BarrieToday. The LJI is funded by the government of Canada
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