Nova Scotia

N.S. pharmacies seeing huge demand for flu shots

Pharmacies in Nova Scotia are already seeing a surge in demand for flu shots this year. Halifax pharmacist Curtis Chafe said he anticipated a 20 to 30 per cent jump from 2019. But he almost matched last year's total already.

'It's been the busiest we've ever seen,' says pharmacist Graham MacKenzie

Curtis Chafe, a pharmacist in Halifax, says he's seen a 300 per cent increase in demand for the flu shot compared to this time last year. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Pharmacies in Nova Scotia are already seeing a surge in demand for flu shots this year.

Halifax pharmacist Curtis Chafe said he anticipated a 20 to 30 per cent jump from 2019. But he almost matched last year's total in the first week and a half this year.

"When we looked at how many flu shots we did in the first week of the season last year, versus the first week of the season this year, there's a 300 per cent increase," said Chafe, who is also the board chair for the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

Chafe said his pharmacy provided 800 flu shots last year.

He did 500 in the first week of this year and expects to surpass 800 by Tuesday.

"It's finally something people are taking seriously," he said. "This year, probably about 50 per cent of the ones that we've done so far are people who have never come into the store."

The Nova Scotia government is urging people in the province to get their flu shots this year to help ease the burden on the health-care system if a potential second wave of COVID-19 hits during flu season. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Chafe said his colleagues across the province are seeing similar trends.

"It's been the busiest we've ever seen," said Graham MacKenzie, owner and pharmacist of Stone's Pharmasave in Baddeck.

MacKenzie said last year the pharmacy did about 400 vaccinations. It has done roughly that many since Oct. 14 when the first shipment of flu vaccine arrived.

"So in a little bit over a week, we did the same amount that we did last year," MacKenzie said.

"We've already done three orders of vaccine in a week, which is unheard of for us.... We'll be doing another order fairly soon I think."

'They just want to do something'

Many pharmacies in the province are requiring people to make an appointment for a flu shot this year in order to promote physical distancing.

Along with seeing new faces wanting the flu vaccine this year, MacKenzie said he is also seeing a number of people asking for shingles vaccines while they are at the pharmacy.

"I think people are in the frame of mind right now that they just want to do something," he said. "People just want to have some kind of say in what's going on with their health."

MacKenzie said he thinks part of the reason that pharmacies are so busy this year is that some family physicians are still doing mostly virtual appointments.

Flu shots are also available through nurse practitioners, family practice nurses and family doctors, as well as walk-in clinics. 

He said there are no signs of slowing down in the coming weeks, but Chafe wonders if the demand for flu shots will be front-loaded, with more people getting their shots earlier instead of waiting a few weeks.

"People have been waiting for the flu shot for a while and they're motivated to get it. It'll be interesting to see if the numbers do increase overall, but it's going to be a bit of time before we can get that data," Chafe said.

Pharmacist Graham MacKenzie says he has already provided 400 flu shots this year. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

The province has said it ordered five per cent more of the flu shot this year, a total of 493,750 doses. The first shipment arrived shortly after the Thanksgiving weekend.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, is encouraging Nova Scotians to get a flu shot this year. Strang said usually 38 to 39 per cent of people in Nova Scotia get the flu shot.

Chafe said the increased demand makes him wonder if there will be any issues with supply, but so far he hasn't had any problems.

"The public response to this has been so overwhelmingly good, it's great to see," MacKenzie said. "And I think going forward into next year, we'll see another busy year because of that."

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