Nova Scotia

Heading to the pharmacy for your flu shot? You may need an appointment

Most pharmacies in Nova Scotia will offer appointments instead of walk-in service for flu shots this year.

Virtual health care may send more people to the pharmacy for their flu shot

A patient receives a flu shot from a health-care professional in Pittsfield, Mass., on Thursday. Flu shots are strongly encouraged this year due to COVID-19. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via the Associated Press)

Pharmacists in Nova Scotia are preparing for more people to come to them for flu shots this fall and are asking patients to book an appointment.

The Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia says what it has learned from the southern hemisphere's flu season is that more people received their vaccination at the pharmacy, both because of physicians continuing virtual visits only and people wanting to avoid health-care facilities.

"Not only did they see an overall increase in demand of 25 per cent of people getting their flu shot," said CEO Allison Bodnar, "but pharmacy in particular saw an increase in demand."

"What we have learned is that people's improved hygiene — handwashing, mask wearing, staying apart — combined with the increase in numbers of people getting the flu shot resulted in the easiest flu season in recent memory in the southern hemisphere. So it worked."

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Patients have been able to simply walk into a pharmacy and receive a flu shot most years.

Bodnar said that along with scheduling a time, patients will also have to do COVID screening and be required to wear a mask while in the pharmacy.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has said the provinces and territories have collectively ordered 22 per cent more doses compared to the same time last year, as public health officials across the country are urging people to get their flu shot amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bodnar said the health-care system is strained each year by the flu and it is already anticipating the effects of COVID-19 as cases start to climb.

"We don't need our health system to be strained by both this year," she said.

It can also reduce the demand for COVID-19 testing, since the flu has similar symptoms. Bodnar said this is especially important for children in schools.

"If my kids show any symptoms of the flu, they're out at home until they get a COVID [test] and can prove that they're negative," she said.

"Why give yourself one more reason to have your kids home from school, have to miss work? If we can avoid getting the flu, we reduce the chances of having to stop our lives again."

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Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease expert, told CBC Nova Scotia News at 6 that there are cases around the world where people have had the flu and COVID at the same time.

"Two respiratory viruses that can cause a significant amount of damage in the lung is a bad thing," she said, adding that it has shown "very poor outcomes" for people, including death.

Barrett said this is also another way for people to help in the fight against COVID-19.

"[It's] hugely, hugely important in how we're going to manage our ICUs and hospitals as we go into flu season," Barrett said.

'People do need to be patient'

Bodnar said there doesn't seem to be any threat of doses running out in the province, but it's something to watch.

"We didn't run out last year, in fact we had lots left over last year and then they've ordered more this year," she said.

Bodnar said the pharmacy association has been told by Public Health that the doses should arrive the week of Thanksgiving.

However, she stresses that this is only the first shipment and that the supply is staggered over several weeks.

"People do need to be patient," Bodnar said.

"Pharmacists are doing the best they can, they don't control the flu supply. They will give out everything they have and they will do it as quickly as they can."

Marla MacInnis, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness, said in an email the province has increased its order for influenza vaccine over the past few years.

"Since the pandemic hit, we have increased our 2020/2021 order for Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine by about 5% more than what we had initially anticipated needing this year. We have the opportunity to request more vaccine, if needed."

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