Fewer flu shot clinics in Winnipeg this year, but uptake remains steady: health authority

Winnipeg's health authority is running fewer flu shot clinics this year than last year, but the authority says the number of people who got their shot hasn't dropped.

Manitoba's health minister says he's looking into lowering the age limit for pharmacy shots from 7

This year, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority offered just four Public Health flu clinics in the city, down from 29 last year. (Tony Talbot/AP)

Winnipeg's health authority is running fewer flu shot clinics this year than last year, but the authority says the number of people getting their shots hasn't dropped.

Flu shots are available at public health offices, nursing stations, doctor's offices, QuickCare clinics, ACCESS Centres, pharmacies or during flu shot clinics, according to the province.

Last year, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority ran 29 such flu shot clinics at 10 different locations in the city, according to a spokesperson for the authority. This year, it offered Public Health flu clinics in only four locations, with just one clinic date at each location, targeted at young children and people who aren't connected to primary-care providers. The health authority also promoted an additional 10 "outreach clinics" hosted by community groups.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the change was driven by a "tremendous shift" in the way people get their flu shots, as people increasingly choose the pharmacy over clinics.

"We wanted to try to align where people were going with where we're providing the supplies," the minister said. "Accessibility is still there, and really aligning with where people are going."

The number of flu shots provided by public health staff dropped by half between 2014 and 2016, the WRHA spokesperson said, from roughly 24,000 in 2014 down to roughly 12,000 shots in 2016 — about eight per cent of all doses provided that year.

Physicians provided just over half of all flu shots last year, she added, and pharmacists administered about 30 per cent of them.

The percentage of people getting flu shots has remained relatively stable at just over a fifth of the population, she added.

"The WRHA has made the decision to re-direct the public health resources from the clinics to targeted efforts to reach vulnerable populations that would otherwise have limited access to vaccines," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Goertzen said the province is confident it will have enough vaccine to provide the shot to anyone who wants one. He said he's already gotten his shot and urged everyone to consider doing the same.

Province mulls lowering age for pharmacy shots

NDP health critic Andrew Swan criticized the move to fewer clinics. Pharmacists aren't permitted to administer the vaccine to children under the age of seven, and Swan said fewer clinics means more pressure on busy pediatricians.

"We want every child under seven years of age to get the flu shot, to make sure that as many kids as possible are immunized," he said.

"Unfortunately, this government's decision means that now people are going to have to make a special appointment with their child's pediatrician for the purpose of getting a flu shot."

Goertzen said other provinces enforce a lower age limit and has asked his department to look into making the change in Manitoba as well.

"If other provinces have set the age [limit] at five, that might give you even more accessibility to pharmacists," he said.

"Next year — it's a little late for this year, because it would take legislative change. But it is a good question and it is something I am looking into."