Alberta's health minister is investigating whether the sale of private flu vaccines breaks any provincial rules.
The vaccine will help guard against the H1N1 virus, which Alberta health officials said has been linked to nine deaths, and more than 350 hospitalizations.
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On Monday, London Drugs told CBC News it’s been purchasing its own supply for the past five years and selling it for $20 to snowbirds, international students, out-of-province residents or people who say they can't wait for the province to make the shot available for all.
Health Minister Fred Horne said at a press conference Wednesday the province is now looking into the London Drugs case.
“Pharmacies have delivered about a third of the immunizations in the province. They’ve done a good job. We pay them a fee for each vaccine that they deliver and then we provide them with those vaccines,” he said.
“We’ll take a look and see if there’s a loophole there that needs to be closed.”
NDP raises queue-jumping concerns
Horne’s comments come as NDP Leader Brian Mason raised concerns that what London Drugs is doing could be considered a form of queue-jumping.
He says the situation is troubling, especially now because Alberta has a shortage of flu vaccine.
“I think it's important that the government maintains the principal that everyone has equal access to health care and that you don't get preferred access to health care by paying an additional fee,” said Mason.
“So, London Drugs in Calgary has been selling their own private vaccine for $20, so we think it's a very concerning issue.”
London Drugs has had a private supply of the flu shot available since the end of September, said London Drugs pharmacy vice-president John Tse. The chain bought its supply from Abbott Laboratories.
“It’s not for queue-jumping because there was ample supply for people who needed the shots in the previous few years. It was always for individuals that could not wait or needed it earlier than it was publicly available,” said Tse.
“For us, it’s about providing the optimum health outcomes for the people of Alberta.”
London Drugs also carries the provincially-funded flu vaccine, which is free. The chain said since the province’s vaccine became available in October, it has offered that to patrons first.
“In every store in Alberta we have a wait list for the publicly-funded vaccine. We’ve taken names and phone numbers and as we are getting more, we would contact individuals to come in in the order they got their name on the list,” said Tse.
“It’s only when those individuals say ‘I can’t wait, I don’t want to wait, what other alternatives do I have,’ that we would say ‘Well we do have this' — if we have it available.”
Province contacts London Drugs
Tse tells CBC News provincial health officials have contacted them about their private stock. Tse said they have made that stock available to the province.
“They asked us how much supply we have and we have in turn related that information to them and we have offered to assist wherever we can and assist the government should they need our help with supplementing our private supply for the public," said Tse.
“We would ask the government to cover our original costs of our supply and should they wish they can have it.”
Tse said the province has yet to respond.
Alberta Health Services — which for this year has gotten its stock from Novartis Canada, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline — said Wednesday it expects to run out of the vaccine by the end of the week.
Pharmacies supplied by the province have been facing shortages due to a push Friday from Horne for people to get vaccinated.