With predictions that a difficult influenza season is coming, pharmacists are calling on the province to pay them to vaccinate residents.

"In most other provinces, eight of ten now, pharmacists have the ability to vaccinate for flu as part of the universal program," said Keith Bailey, public relations chair of the Pharmacists' Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL).

In Newfoundland and Labrador people pay $20 to $25 to get a flu shot from a pharmacist, unless they are covered by the province's public drug program or have private insurance coverage for flu shots.

Flu Vaccine

Regional health authorities in Newfoundland and Labrador begin offering public flu shot clinics in October. (Tony Talbot/AP)

Earlier this year, the province stopped paying doctors a fee to give flu shots.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association says that means many doctors won't be offering flu shots to patients this year.

'Indications are that this upcoming flu season could be very nasty.' - Steve Gillingham

Pharmacists say that's worrying in light of what has happened in other parts of the world where flu season comes earlier.

"Indications are that this upcoming flu season could be very nasty — with Australia and other areas in the Southern Hemisphere already having one of the worst flu seasons in history, with increased cases of influenza, more hospitalization and a greater number of deaths," said PANL president Steve Gillingham.

'The problem is public apathy'

Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the lowest influenza vaccination rates in the country. Last year about 20 percent of the population got a flu shot.

During that year, hundreds of people ended up in hospital with complications related to the flu and a handful of them died.

Bailey believes if the province pays pharmacists to give flu shots, more people will get them and fewer people will get seriously ill.

Speaking with reporters on Friday, provincial Health Minister John Haggie said he doesn't believe giving patients more options to get publicly-funded flu shots will increase the province's vaccination rate.

"We have 130,000 people with drug cards in this province who can walk into any participating drug store in this province and get a flu shot for free. Last year they did 3,700. That's three per cent," said Haggie.

"Quite frankly, the problem in this province about flu vaccination is not access, it's public apathy. We've not been able to generate the same interest in adults that they have in vaccinating children."

Eastern, Western and Labrador-Grenfell Health flu shot clinics began on Monday. The earliest clinics under Central Health are slated for Oct. 30.