01/15/2014 05:43 EST | Updated 03/17/2014 05:59 EDT

With demand for flu vaccine still high, several provinces order additional doses

TORONTO - A number of provinces and territories asked for more influenza vaccine Wednesday in an attempt to meet this season's unusually high demand for flu shots. But at least one, Nova Scotia, has decided to pass, saying the window of opportunity for making a difference with flu vaccine this season is shrinking.

Chief medical officers of health met Wednesday by conference call to take stock of tight supplies and continued high demand.

"Most of the jurisdictions have ordered more," Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C. chief medical officer, said in an interview after the call.

British Columbia has asked for an additional 18,000 doses to augment the 1.4 million doses the province had asked for when provinces and territories had to place this year's orders late last winter, Kendall said.

Newfoundland and Labrador has ordered another 40,000 doses, Susan Sullivan, the province's minister of health and community services, said in a release.

Newfoundland has already distributed nearly 130,000 doses, which is more than the province has used in previous years, said Dr. Faith Stratton, chief medical officer of health. As the province waits for the additional supply, it is focusing vaccination efforts on children under five and pregnant women.

The Northwest Territories, which was down to its last 700 doses last Friday, got an additional 590 doses on Wednesday and expects 810 more this Friday, said Damien Healy, communications manager for the department of health and social services.

Healy said the territory asked for more vaccine still, but would not give a firm number until it was clear whether the order would be filled.

To date 36 per cent of NWT residents have been vaccinated against the flu, he said, adding that is an historic high for the territory for a non-pandemic year. Flu vaccination rates generally hover at about 20 per cent of the territorial population.

For now the territory is reserving flu vaccine for children under five and pregnant women. Healy said a decision on whether to reopen clinics to all comers will be made later, after authorities can assess how well they have done meeting the needs of high-risk groups.

At the end of last week Alberta was down to a 30,000-dose reserve, said Tim Wilson, issues manager for Alberta Health. This week the province took possession of 15,000 additional doses and may get two more deliveries of similar amounts next week and the week after.

"These are very small amounts and they will be used for potential outbreaks and then for providing children who need their second shot to be immunized," Wilson said.

Children under nine who have never been vaccinated against flu before need two doses, not the standard one.

Saskatchewan is also down to low numbers, said Tyler McMurchy, a health ministry spokesperson. The province expects to get more, but until the vaccine is in hand, the ministry doesn't want to talk about specific figures, he said.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia has taken a different approach.

Chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang said that when the province looked at how long it might take to get additional vaccine into arms and plotted that against the expected peak of the flu season there, the decision was made not to buy additional supply.

It would be two or three weeks before the vaccine would be available, he explained, and it takes a couple of weeks for protective antibodies to develop after a person gets a shot. The province expects the flu season to peak there in early to mid-February.

"We made the decision in Nova Scotia that it will be too late to get vaccine in to really have a huge benefit," Strang said, who noted that when it placed its order for this flu season Nova Scotia purchased enough vaccine to protect nearly 50 per cent of its residents.

"So we're comfortable saying that people have had adequate opportunity to get immunized. And when our total allotment is gone, it's gone."

Strang said Nova Scotia's last allotment was arriving on Wednesday, the final 9,600 doses of a 435,000-dose order. It will be distributed across the province over the coming days.

"We will have in all likelihood at least some communities where ... we're going to have some individuals and some (health-care) providers who at the end of the day aren't going to get the vaccine they're looking for," he admitted.