Calgary

Pharmacies say they're already booking up for flu vaccine rollout

There are still a couple weeks to go before the flu vaccine becomes available, but appointments to get the shot are filling up fast for the 1.96 million doses ordered for Albertans.

Alberta has ordered 1.96 million doses of the influenza vaccine

The general public will have to wait until Oct. 19 to roll up their sleeves for a flu shot in Alberta. (Kate Adach/CBC)

The influenza vaccine won't be available in Alberta for a couple of weeks, but pharmacies say appointments to get the shot are filling up fast.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, assured Albertans last week that the province had ordered a record number of doses of the flu vaccine — 1.96 million doses, which is 20 per cent more than last year — because of the anticipated increase in demand due to COVID-19.

The vaccine will become available to the general public on Oct. 19. 

But before then, starting Oct. 13, it will be administered first to high-risk Albertans, including those in long-term care and homeless people.

As well, for the first time, Alberta will offer a high-dose influenza vaccine for seniors in long-term care facilities.

The general public will able to receive one through their physician or at a pharmacy.

Alberta Health Services will offer vaccines at clinics through pre-booked appointments for children under five and their family and household members.

Some pharmacies are already taking bookings now for people to get the vaccine in the first two weeks after it becomes available. 

Rob Heaton, owner of Cambrian Pharmacy in northwest Calgary, says he's been busy booking appointments.

"Normally, in past years, our first two to three days are solid, then we get a bit of an easing, but it keeps strong. Right now, we're working into the second week," he said.

Pharmacy manager David Brewerton at Lukes Drug Mart in Bridgeland is confident the vaccine supply will keep up.  

"I'm hoping it's going to be busier," he said.

"The idea is to reduce the demand on the hospital system by people not getting the flu, thereby leaving room for anything that might come along."

Doctors and governments say the COVID-19 pandemic makes it more important than ever to get the flu shot because:

  • Too many people with flu and flu-related complications can put pressure on the health system, which will likely already be under strain due to COVID-19.
  • A high vaccination rate can reduce the demand for COVID-19 testing, since the flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms. Many testing centres have recently seen long lines and wait times due to a surge in demand.
  • Getting the flu — as with other pre-existing lung diseases — can increase the risk of COVID-19 complications in people who catch that, too.

With files from Terri Trembath, Emily Chung, Marcy Cuttler and Christine Birak

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