New Brunswick

Flu shots in short supply at N.B. pharmacies

Having a tough time finding somewhere that still has flu shots available? You're not alone. The province's pharmacies are seeing a big spike in demand for the vaccine.

COVID-19 fears, free vaccines have led to surge in demand this flu season

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped drive up demand for flu shot, pharmacists say. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Having a tough time finding somewhere that still has flu shots available? You're not alone. 

New Brunswick pharmacies are seeing a surge in demand for the vaccine. Most pharmacies in the province are running low on supply, and many others have already run out — something that doesn't usually happen this early in the season, the head of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association says. 

"We've had several members contact us to say that they are running out of their allotment of vaccine," executive director Jake Reid said. 

The rush on flu shots is partly being driven by COVID-19 fears, he said.

This year especially, "people appreciate that they need to be well, they don't want to get symptoms of flu and confuse them with COVID-19. And we want to keep as many people out of hospital in case we do have a re-emergence of the pandemic." 

But COVID-19 awareness is not the only factor driving demand.

The fact the flu shot is free this year is also a key factor, Reid said, crediting a government promise to make the vaccine available to everyone who wanted it, including those who might previously not have been able to afford it.

The fact that some of those new vaccine recipients may not have a doctor and that pharmacists are "very accessible" is also boosting demand at pharmacies, Reid said.

Jake Reid, the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association executive director, says this season's sizzling demand for the flu shot is a good thing. It shows people have 'listened to our campaign ... and they're getting their flu shots this year when it's so important.' (Submitted by the New Brunswick Pharmacists Association)

Province has 420,000 doses

The province anticipated a higher-than-usual demand this year and received a significantly higher number of vaccine doses than it has in the past.

As of this week, "New Brunswick will have received over 420,000 doses of influenza vaccine — a 26 per cent increase" compared to the 320,380 doses it received last year, Public Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an email.

Those doses are made available to hospitals, long-term care homes, First Nations, the extramural program, Public Health offices, primary care providers and pharmacies, Macfarlane said. 

Of that, the pharmacies' allotment so far has been 147,660 doses, up substantially from the 98,200 publicly funded shots they administered last year, Reid said.

Macfarlane did not say whether the province thinks its 420,000 doses will be enough, but he did note that they've been advised there may be "additional vaccine available nationally."

A sign in a Shoppers in Ottawa advises that the pharmacy is temporarily out of flu shots. New Brunswick pharmacies are also running low or have used up their initial supply. (Jen Beard/CBC)

Call before you go

In the meantime, anyone heading to a pharmacy in hopes of rolling up their sleeve should call first, or check online, to make sure the store has flu shots available.

Shoppers Drug Mart is advising customers that it's seeing a high demand for flu shots and directing them to check their Flu Shot Finder tool online to make sure there are shots available before coming in. If they are not available, visitors can request to be notified when additional doses become available.

CBC News used the Flu Shot Finder to check every Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy in Saint John, Rothesay-Quispamsis, Fredericton and Moncton. 

None of them had available flu shots as of Thursday afternoon.

So what can you do if you want the flu shot but haven't been able to get it?

Reid and Macfarlane both advise residents to keep checking with pharmacies in their area, family physicians, nurse practitioners, and if none of them have available supplies, to check back in with them later to see if more shots have come in.

"Public Health has advised the pharmacy association that there may be some more vaccines coming, but there are no guarantees," Reid said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marie Sutherland is a web writer with CBC News based in Saint John. You can reach her at marie.sutherland@cbc.ca.

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