Flu shot shortage hits Windsor-Essex pharmacies as demand soars

Local pharmacy owner Tim Brady says he's created a flu shot wait list as it's been a challenge to keep the vaccine in stock this year due to an "unprecedented increase" in demand. 

Pharmacy reports more than double increase from last year

Pharmacist Tim Brady is the owner of Brady's Drug Stores in Essex, Ont. and Beller River, Ont. He says this year has been unlike any other for flu shot demand. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Pharmacy owner Tim Brady says he's created a flu shot wait list as it's been a challenge to keep the vaccine in stock this year due to an "unprecedented increase" in demand. 

Brady owns Brady's Drug Store in Belle River and Essex and is also the vice-chair of the Ontario Pharmacist's Association. He says the supply issue goes beyond his stores — other pharmacies in Ontario are seeing an unexpected increase, too.

Across the province, Rexall is delaying flu shot appointments because it ran out of doses. 

"What pharmacies have had to do is now go back to these patients and say, 'I'm sorry, I don't have the supply, I can't give you the shots.' So it's creating a lot of anxiety at a time when we don't need it," said Brady.

"I guess the silver lining of it all, is it just means so many people want a flu shot, which is excellent." 

When the government was first trying to secure a volume of flu shots, Brady said, they initially estimated a 15 per cent increase year over year.  

Rexall says it has had to delay flu shot appointments because it has run out of doses at Ontario pharmacies. In the province, pharmacies access a flu shot supply determined by the Ministry of Health. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Yet some of Brady's stores have seen more than double the demand from last year. 

In total, Brady estimated that his Belle River shop has administered 250 vaccines, while his Essex store has done 500.  

"We've never seen numbers like this of people wanting to get their flu shot. So it's a good thing," he said.

But Brady's not worried. He says there is no province-wide shortage. At least, not yet.

"The province gets supplies on staged amounts. So, you know, we've gone through the first amount and they'll be getting more in." 

Since doses come in sporadically, Brady says he has a wait list and will call people up who want a shot when he gets more doses in.

For now, he says people may want to shop around to other pharmacies if theirs is out of stock, go on a wait list or go see their family doctors. 

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit supplies vaccines to local doctor and nurses offices, while those given to pharmacies come from a different supplier. 

At the daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, CEO of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit Theresa Marentette said the health unit has handed out 67,000 of its 95,000 vaccines.

This means there's still thousands in the region that people can access, but not through a pharmacy. 

Province ordered 1 million extra vaccines

According to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the province ordered 5.1 million doses of the flu vaccine —  1 million more doses than last year. 

"Right now pharmacies have given over a million flu shots in total, 4.8 million have been distributed so there's still a long ways to go," Ford said during a media conference earlier this week. 

Ford said his government is doing all it can to make sure anyone who wants the vaccine can get it. 

He said that pharmacies like Rexall knew the number of vaccines they were set to receive and shouldn't have overbooked people. 


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