Pharmacists help with flu shots in Sask. — but at an added cost

This is the second year pharmacists in Saskatchewan have been able to administer flu vaccines, and it's helping ease the burden on public health officials.

Second year pharmacists have been able to administer flu vaccine

A health-care worker in Saskatchewan gives a flu shot. (CBC)

Pharmacists are helping ease the burden on public health officials when it comes to influenza immunization in Saskatchewan.

"The pharmacy certainly provides a supportive service in terms of the vaccines and certainly it is well used by the public," said Dr. Maurice Hennink, the deputy medical health officer for Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region. 

This is the second year pharmacists have been able to provide immunizations in the province. They can give the vaccine to anyone nine years old and older.

As of Dec. 10, public health officials have administered 65 per cent of influenza vaccines across the province, compared with about 35 per cent of people who have been vaccinated at pharmacies, said Tyler McMurchy, a spokesman for the provincial Ministry of Health.

In RQHR, about 55,000 vaccinations have been administered and about 40 per cent of those were done by pharmacists, said Hennink.

In Saskatoon, about 46,000 doses have been given, but the region could not provide a number for those provided by pharmacists, said Saskatoon Health Region deputy medical health officer Dr. Simon Kapaj. 

McMurchy said there have been no reports of excessive wait times for immunizations. 

Added cost

This year, the Saskatchewan government ordered 380,000 doses in preparation for the flu season, which cost nearly $2.54 million. That batch of vaccinations was distributed to public health administrators and pharmacies. 

Public health officials provide their flu shots for free, but pharmacists do not. On top of the cost of the vaccines themselves, the provincial government gives $13 per dose to pharmacists for each vaccine administered.

Public health officials are not given money on a per-dose basis because they are already paid an hourly wage.

McMurchy said the ministry is unable to provide the total cost of paying pharmacists for the doses or a comparison to the cost of having all shots administered by public health officials, because the number of patients per hour varies from clinic to clinic. ​

Strains in Saskatchewan 

The predominant strain of Influenza A this year, H3N2, is different and more powerful than the Influenza A H1N1 of last year. It targets the elderly and young children, and is also more likely to lead to death. 

However, health officials have said there is a strong match between this year's vaccine and Influenza A H3N2.

"That's good news because individuals that have received the vaccine are protected for this influenza season," Kapaj said.  

Last year, the peak of the flu season was in March, but this year it's expected to be in mid-January.

But Hennink said, "There's no definite way to predict exactly how we're going to experience the flu season."

That's why he, Kapaj and McMurchy want to remind people that there is still time to get vaccinated. 
The latest update on the influenza situation in Saskatchewan. The numbers will be updated in the first week of 2017. (Saskatchewan Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report)