British Columbia

British Columbians face long waits for flu shots as public clinics, pharmacies see high demand

Some British Columbians trying to book flu shots are facing long wait times as pharmacies and public flu clinics grapple with increased demand and added COVID-19 sanitation procedures.

'It's like trying to win a lottery or get tickets to a concert or something,' says one mom

Some parents of children under the age of five say it's difficult to book flu shots at public health clinics due to high demand. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Some British Columbians trying to book flu shots are facing long wait times as pharmacies and public flu clinics grapple with increased demand and added COVID-19 sanitation procedures.

The province is hoping two million residents get the influenza vaccine this year to avoid burdening the health-care system during the pandemic, and health officials say patients should book an appointment rather than walk into a pharmacy.

Naomi McCormick, a mother of two young children in Victoria, says that's easier said than done.

"It's like trying to win a lottery or get tickets to a concert or something," she said. "Like I'm just just refreshing so that we can be early on in the queue trying to book online."

McCormick has spent two weeks trying to book flu shots for her two kids, aged two and five. It's a priority for her — her older child has illness-induced asthma and ended up in hospital last year after getting sick. 

B.C. pharmacists can only administer the vaccine to children under five years of age if it's the nasal spray, and the spray is not available at every pharmacy. McCormick said her family doctor is not administering flu shots because of COVID-19. Her only option to vaccinate the whole family at once is a public flu clinic, and she's had no luck trying to book online. 

"It's just this challenge for families that have children that are under the age of five ... your options are just so limited and so you are just basically reliant on the health unit," McCormick said.

No shortage of flu vaccine, pharmacy manager says

In a statement, Vancouver Coastal Health says its flu vaccination program is "getting underway" and is urging residents to begin making appointments for a flu shot.

However, its mass public flu clinics aren't yet up and running. A flu clinic at the Croatian Cultural Centre will open on Nov. 3. Another one at the Canadian Memorial Centre for Peace will open on Nov. 25.

More locations can be found on the Immunize B.C. website.

Burnaby resident Azadeh Mahmoodian found better luck as a walk-in at her local Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy. She and her husband received their shots within 30 minutes, she said.

It's a different story for her 10-month-old baby, who falls into the high-risk category for influenza. The baby is also too young to receive the nasal spray and must receive an injection. When she called the Burnaby Public Health Unit, she was told the wait time to book an appointment was nearly 22 hours.

"We are immunized around him at least," she said. "If there were more places that could administer this flu shot, it might help."

Many British Columbians are also waiting a long time for flu shot at pharmacies — London Drugs pharmacies are fully booked for the next few days, said Chris Chiew, general manager of the pharmacy division.

"It seems right now that every time we open it up, it does get booked up right away," Chiew said.

There's no shortage of the vaccine, Chiew said, but COVID-19 cleaning protocols are slowing down the process this year.

Pharmacists are having to sanitize the room to a higher degree than usual between patients. Because of this, they're injecting one vaccine every 10 minutes compared to last year, when they could do one vaccine every two minutes, he said. 

Chiew encourages British Columbians to check pharmacy websites regularly for new bookings which are first come, first served, or call the pharmacy if they don't have access to a computer.

He's also asking residents to be patient. 

"Because of these COVID protocols to make sure everybody is safe while they're getting the flu vaccine, we're thinking that it's going to take us about a month and a half to two months before we get most of the people injected," Chiew said.

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