For the first time this fall, all Prince Edward Islanders will be able to receive the flu shot for free.

Government made the announcement, with a $600,000 price tag, as part of its 2017-18 spring operating budget. Those free flu shots are expected to be available sometime around the second week of October.

The Prince Edward Island Pharmacists Association is applauding the move.

"By offering the vaccine universally, the cost barrier is removed for many, and the hope is that will help to increase vaccination rates and help to protect some of the more vulnerable Islanders from flu-related illness," said the association's executive director Erin MacKenzie.

Also free for students, summer residents

In past years, the provincial government provided doses of the flu vaccine without charge to pharmacies, doctors' offices and other vaccination points across the province. But most doctors, pharmacists and even public health nurses charged patients a fee to administer the vaccine. That fee was waived for some vulnerable populations, including young children and seniors over 65.

Now the cost to deliver the dose to all residents will be paid by government. According to the province's new influenza immunization policy, visiting students and even summer residents — people without provincial health cards — will receive the vaccine for free.

Others from out-of-province who aren't living on P.E.I. will receive the dose for free but can be charged an administration fee by the health care provider administering it.

The vaccine will be distributed to the offices of doctors and nurse practitioners, pharmacies and provincial immunization clinics. Doses will also be made available to be given to patients and staff in other health care facilities, including private long-term care homes and community care facilities.

Hoping to boost immunization levels

According to the new policy, employees who receive the vaccine through a workplace immunization program can't be charged a fee for that themselves, but the employer can be charged for administration of the vaccine by a private provider, and that cost will not be covered by the province.

Most provinces and territories already provide free flu shots. When P.E.I. announced the measure, Health and Wellness Minister Robert Henderson said he hoped it would raise immunization rates from the current one-third up to 50 per cent.