Montreal

Demand for flu shot surges at Quebec pharmacies, clinics

Montérégie Public Health's online system for appointments crashed on the first day it became available due to an increase in traffic.

The province is anticipating a huge increase in demand for flu vaccine

Quebec ordered 2 million doses of the vaccine, which is 400,000 more compared to 2019. (Robert Short/CBC)

Quebec pharmacies and regional health authorities are struggling to keep up with a surge in demand for the flu vaccine.

The online booking system in Montérégie crashed on Tuesday, the first day residents were able to book an appointment through the regional health authority.

Pharmacies are also seeing a jump in demand for vaccines.

A review of Montreal locations shows that, in many cases, the first round of vaccinations is already booked up.

"We're overwhelmed," said Fady Kamel, a pharmacist and owner of the Proximed branch in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux. "We're getting a lot of people that are very anxious about their vaccine."

The province has ordered two million doses, which is about 400,000 more than in 2019. Although Quebec placed the bulk of that order prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry says it will be enough to meet the demand.

 Kamel says he is getting ready for a possible shortage. His pharmacy has ordered 1,000 doses but he expects the first delivery to be less than half of that.

Regional health authorities in Montreal and Laval will begin taking appointments by the end of the month.

Fady Kamel, pharmacist and owner of the branch Proximed in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, says some people have been calling everyday to get an appointment for the flu vaccine. (Louis-Marie Philidor/CBC)

'The system is stretched to the limit'

Experts say that even if the flu vaccine isn't perfect, giving it to as many people as possible will help limit the strain on a health system already burdened with the pandemic.

"The system is stretched to the limit," said Dr. Karl Weiss, chief of the infectious diseases division at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital.

"So imagine if we have the same season, but we add COVID on top of it."

Quebec is in the mist of what public health officials are calling a second wave of COVID-19, with the number of hospitalizations related to the coronavirus going up in recent weeks.

"Even if a vaccine is 50 per cent efficacious or 70 per cent or 80 per cent efficacious, if it reduces the severity and you get a milder cases of the flu," said Pratival Baral, who's a Montrealer and an epidemiologist with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"That's so much better than you getting a really severe case and having to go to the hospital."

'It's been pretty challenging'

This is the first year pharmacists in Quebec can administer the flu vaccine.

In the past, you could only get vaccinated at a pharmacy if there was a nurse working there.

Pharmacists are embracing the added responsibilities, even if they come during a pandemic.

"It's been pretty challenging to get our pharmacies ready to not only administer vaccines but to put up the sanitary measures in place to make sure we do it in a safe way," said Bertrand Bolduc, the head of Quebec's order of pharmacists.

According to Bolduc, 25 per cent of pharmacists have been trained to provide the flu shot. 

"It might extend through December," he said, in reference to the vaccination schedule in pharmacies. "But we want to make sure that by January, at least, most people are protected against the flu."

With files from Kate McKenna and Jay Turnbull

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