Ottawa running out of high-dose flu vaccine for seniors

Ottawa Public Health says it's run out of high-dose flu vaccines just as flu season is getting underway, with limited quantities available from pharmacists and doctors.

Regular shot still effective, recommended, says OPH

Ottawa Public Health says it's already received 100 per cent of its high-dose influenza vaccine allottment from the province, which have all been given out to physicians offices or at its own community clinics. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle/The Associated Press)

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) says it's run out of high-dose flu vaccines just as flu season is getting underway, with limited quantities available from pharmacists and doctors.

These vaccines were recommended for people over the age of 65, but the provincial government only ordered enough shots for less than half Ontario's seniors

That's caused a strain on the current resources at a time people are being asked to get the flu shot to avoid a "twindemic" hitting hospitals alongside COVID-19.

High-dose vaccines protect against three strains of the flu, while the regular flu shot protects against four. Ottawa Public Health (OPH) recommends seniors get the regular vaccine in place of the high-dose version. 

"No additional doses of the high-dose trivalent vaccine are anticipated to be provided to OPH or other health units in Ontario at this time," Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, wrote in a memo to council released Tuesday morning.

The doses allotted to Ottawa have all been sent to physicians offices and used up at community clinics, she said, adding the province has said it's given out all it has.

"The vaccine may still be available in some pharmacies or from some physicians in limited quantities," she wrote.

Get regular dose

Etches suggests people call their local pharmacy or physician to see if they have any of the high-dose vaccines left, but stressed even if there are no more available, seniors can still receive the regular vaccine.

"Both vaccines are effective and recommended for seniors. The most important thing is for seniors to get the vaccine that is available in their location without delay."

But even the regular doses appear to be in short supply.

Many pharmacies ran out of vaccines themselves late last month, frustrating residents who had booked appointments weeks in advance. 

Rexall's website states "flu appointments have been cancelled due to a province wide supply issue" and the company is working to obtain more from the government.

According to the Shoppers Drug Mart website, none of its locations in the Ottawa area has any of either of the regular or high-dose vaccines available.

Strong uptake this year

Marie-Claude Turcotte, a program manager with OPH, said the goal is still to vaccinate the majority of Ottawans against the flu, and OPH plans to run its flu shot clinics as long is there's demand.

Marie-Claude Turcotte, who manages Ottawa Public Health's vaccine program, said on Tuesday the public health agency plans to run flu shot clinics as long as there is demand for more appointments. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

"We want to get as many people vaccinated as possible," she said Tuesday. 

OPH has already vaccinated more than 20,000 people against the flu this year. During the previous flu season, OPH vaccinated a little more than 11,000 people. The tallies do not include people who received flu shots at pharmacies or from physicians.

OPH begins booking new appointments at its community flu clinics every Thursday, and warns time slots are normally booked up within a few days.

A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Health said historic levels of Ontarians got the flu shot early this year. As of Monday, 5.1 million doses of the flu vaccine had been distributed, compared to 1.4 million last year. This year's doses include 1.3 million high-dose vaccines for seniors.

The province is looking at buying more flu shots and is speaking with both the federal government and the private sector about this issue, said the spokesperson.

Flu season in Ontario normally lasts from late fall until early spring.

With files from CBC's Laura Glowacki

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