As Nova Scotia runs low on flu shot vaccines, a pharmacist hopes the province reallocates the remaining stock to prioritize high-risk patients.
“I don’t have any stock left in the pharmacy where I work, and I know that I’m not alone,” Diane Harpell tells NEWS 95.7’s The Todd Veinotte Show. “I actually had to cancel three clinics last week and three clinics this week because I do not have any more stock.
“I reached out to Public Health this week essentially begging for more vaccine — because we do have a lot of high-risk folks — and was told it’s very unlikely that I’ll get much more at all.”
Harpell is the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia’s new board chair and she owns a Dartmouth pharmacy. She says Public Health told pharmacists to administer the flu shots to anyone who wanted one as the province was going to get a large supply.
“We were ensured that leading up to the flu season that with all of this increased demand, there would be enough supply to go around,” she says. “But of course, now we are in the middle of November and we’re facing a different reality. So, it’s a been a little bit of an adventure.”
Harpell says many pharmacists are disappointed because they had made many requests to see if they had to prioritize giving the vaccine to high-risk patients.
Now, she says there are several buildings in the Halifax Regional Municipality with seniors who still haven’t received a flu shot.
That issue extends across the province. While Harpell says her pharmacy was lucky to receive a larger supply of flu shot doses, other Nova Scotia communities are in a worse situation.
“If you look in places like Cape Breton, some of the pharmacies in Cape Breton were in a different situation,” she says. “So, they haven’t been as fortunate. Really from the start, they didn’t get much vaccine at all and so they’ve had to struggle through all of October and November where they didn’t get a lot of vaccine to start hoping that they would get more. And we’re not sure if they’re going to get any more at all as well.”
Harpell says she’s hopeful that Public Health re-assesses the situation and possibly reallocates some of the available flu shots at other providers — such as family physicians — to Nova Scotia pharmacies.
Over the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacies didn’t close to the public. Harpell says that accessibility increased the number of people who are going to pharmacies for healthcare.
“They (Public Health) wanted to ensure that any stock that was still available was sent to places providing care to high-risk patients,” she says. “And I think that it’s important that they realize that pharmacy is the main provider right now that are seeing a lot of those high-risk patients.”
Harpell says Public Health has done an “incredible job” about COVID-19 but that there must be better communication around the flu vaccine.
“Right now, pharmacy is sort of looking like the bad guy because we’ve run out of vaccine,” she says. “But we’re just sort of left in the dark right now.”
Michelle Donaldson, the communications and special projects manager of the Lung Association of Nova Scotia, says this is a good thing because there will be more people who are vaccinated.
“It’s great that people are becoming more aware of it and hopefully this continues on into the future where more people see the benefit in getting immunized and we become a healthier society as a result,” she says.
Survey statistics from a study called Flu Risk Insights shows that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 77 per cent of Nova Scotia seniors say they’ll take the flu more seriously. Eighty-two per cent of Nova Scotia seniors say they’re more likely to get this year’s flu shot.
A Statistics Canada population estimate shows that since July 1, there were around 208,825 people over the age of 65 in Nova Scotia. That’s out of more than 970,000 Nova Scotians.
For this year’s flu season, the province ordered 492,750 doses of the regular vaccine. For the high-dose vaccines, which is recommended for everyone over 65, it ordered 9,700.
Since Nov. 11, the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia estimated that 90 per cent of the province's flu shot supply has already been used.
Donaldson says people should call around to check the availability of flu vaccines and hopes everyone who wants a flu shot can get one.
For people who haven’t yet received a flu shot, Harpell also recommends people call different pharmacies to check availability. People should also contact their physicians to see if they have any available vaccines.