New Brunswick

Flu shot clinics delayed by a few weeks

New Brunswick has not yet received its full order of influenza vaccine shots, delaying the distribution to doctor's offices, pharmacies and clinics for those who aren't at high-risk of flu complications.

Vaccine available now to those at high-risk

The health department says distribution of flu shots has begun to groups at highest risk and those capable of transmitting influenza to them. (George Rudy/Shutterstock)

Some people looking to get their annual flu shot may have to wait a few weeks.

Public health officials have been conspicuously quiet about the annual flu shot campaign because they haven't yet received their full order of vaccines. 

"Vaccine delivery in New Brunswick is delayed by a few weeks and vaccination programs may need to be adjusted to accommodate a somewhat later than usual delivery schedule," said Health Department spokesperson Bruce MacFarlane in an email statement.

Flu shot clinics typically start up in late October or early November, he said, and the vaccines are only distributed once there's enough to go around.

But vaccines are being made available right away to high-risk groups, such as children, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions. 

Ninety per cent of New Brunswick's annual vaccine order is expected to be available by the end of this month.

Normally, about 280,000 doses of flu vaccine are distributed in the province each year.

The delivery delay is partly a consequence of a slow decision last winter by the World Health Organization (WHO), said Dr. Joanne Langley, head of infectious diseases at the IWK Hospital in Halifax, and associate director of the evaluation unit at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology.

The WHO normally decides in February which four strains to include in the shots. But the decision was put off until March in hopes of having a closer match with the rapidly mutating and hard-to-predict virus.

Flu shots will be a few weeks later than usual this fall, partly because it took longer to choose the virus strains it should target. (Robert Short/CBC)

That pushed the whole process forward, said Langley.

"If you think about when you want your annuals for your summer flower pots, once you plant the seeds, you're not going to have your beautiful, blooming flower within a few days."

Most of the flu vaccines used in Canada are raised in eggs, over a period of months, she said.

New methods are being developed, however, that would speed up the process.

One method that's about to hit the market uses insect eggs.

Another uses non-egg, mammalian cells.

And a third method, still in an earlier stage of research, uses tobacco leaves immersed in virus solution.

"Which is a better use of tobacco, in my opinion," said Langley.

Shorter production times would help obtain a more effective and stable supply.

"We would like to have the vaccine at a certain time," said Langley, "and have people receive it in an orderly fashion as quickly as possible because you never know for sure when the influenza season will start where you live."

So far there are no reported cases in New Brunswick, she said, although Nova Scotia has had a few.

Outbreaks typically begin in western Canada and reach the eastern provinces in December, January and February.

That means there will still be time to get a shot.

"The moment that your doctor or Public Health says it's available," Langley said, "I would urge people to go right away."

With files from Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon and Information Morning Fredericton

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