At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hottest ticket item was toilet paper.
Now, eight months in? It’s the flu shot.
On the advice of public health officials, Canadians are flocking to their family doctors and local pharmacies looking to get immunized against seasonal influenza. The annual vaccine is more important than ever this year, as health officials warn we must work to prevent the dual health threat posed by COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.
Provincial governments have spent millions on this year’s influenza vaccine, ordering more doses than ever. But many Canadians l face long wait times or can’t schedule a flu shot at all.
That’s prompted concerns there might be a shortage of vaccine doses this year. But how legitimate of a worry is that? Here’s what you need to know.
I can’t book an appointment! Is there a shortage of flu shots?
No, there’s no expected shortage of influenza vaccines in Canada this year. Most provinces have actually procured more doses of the vaccine than ever before, but it’s just taking some time for all of them to arrive.
In a normal year, vaccination campaigns don’t usually start in earnest until late October or November anyways. The early rush of people to get vaccinated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has exhausted some initial supplies, but more are coming.
“The vaccine is coming, we know we have lots of it, and it’s being distributed around the province,” B.C. chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday. “If it takes a week or two for you to get an appointment with your pharmacist, or your physician, or at your public health clinic [that’s OK].”
The same goes for Ontario, where residents have reported long lines and wait times for the vaccine. This week, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliot confirmed there’s no shortage.
“The shipments are coming in on a regular basis,” she said. “The supplies come in on a regular basis, if not weekly, every two weeks, so they are coming in.”
Ontario is spending $70 million to order more than five million doses of the flu vaccine this year. B.C. is also procuring more vaccines than ever before, including near half a million more “high dose” versions of the vaccine, which are intended for seniors.
Officials are recommending you plan ahead for when to get your shot, but don’t worry too much if you can’t get it right away. The full procurement will be here in the coming weeks and months.
“I would ask that people either call ahead to schedule an appointment with their primary care practitioner or call ahead to the pharmacy that they intend to go to to receive the shot just to make sure that they have supply right at the moment,” Elliot said.
When should I get my flu shot?
According to health officials, unless you are particularly vulnerable or a front-line worker, you don’t need to rush your shot right away. Henry said the best time is late October or early November.
“An appointment in a week or two weeks is just fine,” Henry said. “I would encourage people that’s the optimal time to be immunized because then we know the immunity you get from the vaccine will carry you through the influenza season.”
Henry said it’s not a bad idea for young, healthy and non-vulnerable people to wait a week or two to get vaccinated and let more vulnerable people access early supplies.
What kind of flu vaccines are available?
In Canada, there are three major forms of the flu vaccine available.
There’s the classic “flu shot,” which is administered mostly to adults between 18 and 65.
There’s a “flu mist” nasal spray designed for kids aged 2-17.
And new this year is a special “high dose” version of the vaccine, which has four times the antigens as the normal vaccine and better prepares the body’s defences. The high-dose vaccine will be rolled out for people aged 65 and up in long-term or acute care across Canada. Limited amounts of it may be available for purchase in select circumstances, but officials are stressing that the vast majority of people will be just fine with the normal dose.
Where can I get my flu shot?
In most cases, you can make an appointment through your family doctor. If you don’t have a family doctor, pharmacies are also offering flu shots by appointment. Universities and workplaces may also offer immunization programs.
When in doubt, be sure to check your province’s immunization information resources for more information.