Inconsistent early flu shot rollout frustrates some Alberta pharmacists

Some Alberta pharmacists say they're frustrated with how the province has rolled out its flu shots this year.

Flu shots will be available across the province as of Oct. 21 but some pharmacies got the vaccine early

David Brewerton, pharmacy manager at Luke's Drug Mart in Calgary, says he was left in a difficult position after the flu vaccine was shipped out to other pharmacies, not his. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Some Alberta pharmacists say they're frustrated with how the government has rolled out flu shots this year.

The province usually sets an official release date in mid-to-late October, by which all pharmacies should have received their shipments and can start administering the flu vaccine.

But this year, things went a little differently. 

"This year there was distribution to some stores sooner than others," said Rob Heaton, of Cambrian Pharmacy in Calgary.

"It makes us look silly. We're getting calls from customers asking for flu vaccines and we don't have it … which isn't very good for continuity of care for our patients."

Heaton said he didn't get his first shipment until more than a week after some larger pharmacy chains were already hosting flu shot clinics.

David Brewerton, a pharmacist at Luke's Pharmacy, had the same problem — the phone was ringing with customers saying other pharmacies already had the shot, so why didn't his?

"The places they were quoting were all the bigger box stores," he said.

Alberta Health says early shots are in public interest

Alberta Health stockpiles and supplies the vaccine, but a spokesperson said no preference was given to certain pharmacies.

"Alberta Health has authorized all pharmacies, large and small, to begin offering the influenza vaccine as soon as they receive it because that's in the public interest. This is an opportunistic vaccine. It works when administered before someone gets the flu," an emailed statement from Alberta Health read.

"As soon as Alberta Health receives a shipment of influenza vaccine, we share it with both Alberta Health Services (AHS) and pharmacy wholesale distributors, who oversee delivering it to community pharmacies."

McKesson Canada, one of the vaccine's distributors, said in an emailed statement that its shipments "are carried out on an equitable basis and based on transportation routes."

Greg Bueckert, of Greg's Remedy RX in Medicine Hat, says his pharmacy is still waiting on the vaccine.

Alberta Health said all pharmacies should have received the vaccine by Oct. 21. 

Vaccines are offered free of charge to all Albertans older than six months. A list of local clinic locations and schedules is available on the Alberta Health Services website.

With files from Jennifer Lee


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