Ottawa

Gatineau parents face delays getting flu vaccine for kids

Vaccine shortages at pharmacies in Gatineau, Que., and public clinics in the province that only target certain vulnerable groups are leading to long waits for parents trying to get their kids the flu shot. 

Some Gatineau pharmacies have delays in shipments, while others have stopped booking appointments

Suzanne Henderson says her son Julien Pang, 3, and his older brother have to wait until December for their flu shots after they were turned away at a public clinic and pharmacies in Gatineau told them they were out of stock. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Vaccine shortages at pharmacies in Gatineau, Que., and public clinics in the province that only target certain vulnerable groups are leading to long waits for parents trying to get their kids the flu shot. 

Suzanne Henderson, a nurse in Ontario who lives in the Aylmer neighbourhood, says she started the process to get her children's influenza shots last month, but made the mistake of assuming her kids could get them at the public clinic, as children can in Ottawa.

She'd made a booking at their Centre local de services communautaire (CLSC), but was surprised to find her children, who she says had been vaccinated at public clinics before, were not eligible since they were healthy and older than 24 months.

Henderson, as a health care worker, was able to receive a free vaccine at the CLSC.

But she was left to call several pharmacies in early November and found either the vaccine was out of stock or they would not vaccinate children younger than six, such as her four-year-old. 

"My appointment is now delayed to the beginning of December and I started doing this in October. Now I'm waiting and waiting and waiting to get it done," she said.

Suzanne Henderson, who lives in Aylmer, says her children will have to wait weeks to get their shots at the pharmacy after they were turned away from their Centre local de services communautaire at their appointment. 1:21

Gatineau pharmacies contacted by CBC News said some experienced delays in shipments or have stopped taking bookings for flu shots for the year.

Henderson said she would like for the regional health authority to provide more guidance to parents on how to protect their children.

"The risks are higher the more you go into the season. People are starting to get flu going around right now and young kids are more vulnerable to getting the flu," Henderson said.

Quebec's public vaccine program targets vulnerable

Dr. Carol McConnery, medical officer of health at the Centre integré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO), said the region's free vaccination program has enough supply for the target population, but they never sell shots.

The program covers:

  • people with chronic illness at risk of complications.
  • pregnant women in their second or third trimester of pregnancy.
  • all people over the age of 75.
  • people who live or work directly with people at risk of complications. 

A 2018 review of the scientific literature produced in Quebec recommended withdrawing two groups that had been previously covered — healthy children between the 6 and 24 months old and healthy adults between ages 60-74 from the public campaign. But for this year McConnery said those groups still receive free vaccines at the CLSC.

"We have enough vaccines to cover our population, but we don't have a surplus of vaccines," McConnery said. "There's been a lack of access to vaccines in the private sector and that's causing some frustration."

A mother in Gatineau was surprised to discover her kids weren't eligible for the flu shot because they were healthy. We speak with the Outaouais' medical officer to unpack their flu shot policies. 7:51

The goal of Quebec's public vaccine program is to immunize people who are most likely to face complications or death if they do catch the seasonal virus, rather than eliminate every possible case, she said.

"We're aiming for 80 per cent of coverage of people with chronic disease. We're making sure that the vaccines are going into the arms of the right people that are targeted with our program," McConnery said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says Quebec, New Brunswick and British Columbia don't provide public funding for universal flu shots, while all other provinces and territories do.

Henderson said she would like to see a more widespread approach to vaccination.

"It's not just looking at yourself it's looking at other people who can't get the flu shot for themselves so I don't really agree with their approach," she said.