Medical clinics and pharmacies in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island are running out of influenza vaccines, while others are struggling to keep up with demand.
The clinic at Lonsdale and 18th in North Vancouver — one of the region's largest — ran out of flu vaccines about two weeks ago. Office manager Kim Graffi says they have had to turn away up to 50 people every day.
"We've had huge numbers of people phoning, walking in and unfortunately we don't have any flu shots to give them," said Graffi.
Graffi says demand for the vaccine was normal through November and December, but that changed in early January when it was reported that the H1N1 flu virus caused the deaths of eight people in Alberta, and sent more than 370 to hospital and 40 to intensive care.
In B.C., the H1N1 strain has killed one woman in the Okanagan and sent at least 40 people to intensive care.
Graffi says she has ordered more flu vaccines, but has been told she might not get more this season.
Vaccine shortages spread to Vancouver Island
Meanwhile, two public health clinics dispensing flu shots on Vancouver Island have been suspended because of vaccine shortages. Immunizations are still available for anyone who has already booked an appointment.
"Every year we tend to buy more vaccine than we need to make sure we've got enough to cover and every year there's always vaccine left over. We'll have much less vaccine left over this year, if any," said Dr. Murray Fyfe of Vancouver Island Health Authority.
Fyfe says the H1N1 strain represents about 90 per cent of all flu cases diagnosed this year. While most people who contract H1N1 can recover at home, it is more likely than other flu strains to send people to hospital.
"It's not like lying in bed watching movies and TV. You feel really sick and you just want to lie there and sleep. And it takes a while to get back on your feet even after you've recovered and you can get up. You just don't feel yourself for a couple weeks afterwards."
Fyfe said the health authority still expects to get more vaccines gradually and in smaller amounts this flu season.
More vaccine on the way — maybe
Last week, B.C.'s Provincial Health Office Dr. Perry Kendall told CBC News the province ordered approximately 1.4 million flu vaccines this year. Health Authorities will be redistributing the remaining supplies to areas where there is need.
Perry said there is no vaccine shortage yet, but if demand remains high it is "conceivable" there could be.
The BC Centre for Disease Control says it has ordered an additional 13,000 flu vaccines from two manufacturers, but there is no guarantee the order will be filled.
It does, however, expect 5,000 flu mist doses next week and 3,000 injectable doses by the end of January.