The P.E.I. government set aside money in last week's budget to provide free flu vaccines for all Islanders for the next flu season.

Health Minister Rob Henderson said other provinces that offer universal flu shot have found the investment paid off. The goal is to get half of Islanders immunized, up from the current one third.

"The hope is that by eliminating any particular barriers as it pertains to cost — just better promotion, more people doing it — we'll spread word faster and if we can get that up over 50% that would be great," said Henderson.

P.E.I. Health Minister Rob Henderson, winter

Health Minister Rob Henderson wants to see 50% of Islanders vaccinated. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

"We'll certainly hope to see some good payback once we reduce those flu-related symptoms that would be affecting our health-care system across the province."

Fewer cases should take pressure off doctor's offices, hospitals and emergency departments, he said. Last an estimated 86 people were hospitalized with flu, including 11 admitted to intensive care.

The $600,000 budgeted will cover both the cost of the vaccine and the fee to administer it. People will be able to get the shot at a pharmacy, a doctor's office or clinics.

Health budget up

Health care is the largest item in the provincial budget, making up 36 per cent of spending, and the government intends to spend more this year.

In addition to the free flu shots, the province plans to add a geriatrician and emergency room doctors. New neurology services will reduce the need for patients to travel out of province for care.

The Health PEI budget is up $19.3 million, or 3.1 per cent.