The Ontario government announced Tuesday it will expand the role of pharmacists, allowing them to give flu shots, renew most prescriptions for up to six months and prescribe anti-smoking aids.  

Pharmacists will be able to give out flu shots starting Tuesday, and even though only about 600 pharmacies are set up for it this fall, officials say it will expand next year.

Currently pharmacists in three other provinces can administer flu shots.

Ontario wants to increase the take-up rate on flu shots, so it will pay pharmacies $7.50 for each shot they administer.

The Liberal government says it changed the regulations to expand the scope of practice for pharmacists to make it more convenient for patients.

Starting immediately, pharmacists can write a new prescription for products that help people stop smoking.

Once the payment details are worked out with the province, pharmacists will also be able to renew existing prescriptions — except for narcotics — and can adjust the dosage if necessary.

Health Minister Deb Matthews said the move is primarily intended to expand patients' access to care and denied it is mainly a cost-saving measure.

"Pharmacists are highly trained and trusted health providers," said Matthews. "It’s time that we benefit fully from all the services they can provide."

With files from The Canadian Press