As It Happens·Q&A

Doug Ford is 'gaslighting' by blaming pharmacies for flu shot shortage: doctor

An Ottawa family doctor says she has spent the last month fighting tooth and nail to get sufficient flu shot doses for her clinic, and she's not alone.

Long lines and shortages of influenza vaccine reported across Ontario and elsewhere in Canada

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth is an Ottawa family practitioner who says she only secured enough flu shot doses for her clinic after she made 'a lot of noise.' (Submitted by Nili Kaplan-Myrth)

An Ottawa family doctor says she has spent the last month fighting tooth and nail to get sufficient flu shot doses for her clinic — and she's not alone.

Doctors and pharmacists across Ontario have been reporting a shortage of flu shots as demand surges during the coronavirus pandemic. Pharmacy chain Rexall paused its influenza vaccination program in the province due to supply issues.

And it's not just Ontario. Long lines and shortages have also been reported in B.C.Manitoba, and Quebec.

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth says the shortages are symptomatic of a much bigger problem, and they don't inspire confidence about the eventual rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

I understand you now have enough flu vaccine doses for your patients at your clinic. But what did you have to do to make that happen?

I had to make a lot of noise, and that is not the way that it's meant to be.

But this is a repeating pattern. If we yell and scream and say the community isn't being supported and we need more flu shots in our clinic, and then literally drive down to Public Health and say, "We're here to pick up the flu shot," then we ended up with enough.

But it's not the process that it's meant to be. You know, our provincial leaders say that there's going to be enough, and then the public health officers say that there's going to be enough. And then the hospital ... CEOs and the politicians pose getting their flu shots and getting chocolate bars. And in the meantime, in the community, where we're actually serving the vulnerable populations, we don't have enough.

A sign in a Shoppers Drug Mart in Ottawa advises it is temporarily out of flu shots. The CBC checked every Shoppers in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John and found all were out of stock on Thursday. (Jen Beard/CBC)

This demand for the flu vaccine was so anticipated, wasn't it, across the country? ... And the plan was to have a massive vaccine, probably 80 per cent coverage. How is it that we don't have the vaccine?

I don't know. But that is part of this question about the lack of transparency. Because when we're told, "Don't worry, don't panic, there'll be enough for everybody," and then literally, like even now, I have doctors and teachers who I've given the flu shot to. They're not my patients, but they haven't been able to get it for themselves.

I've got patients who are Indigenous, seniors, people with disabilities. I've got patients who are PSWs [personal support workers], and who are grocers. They need the flu shot. And if I hadn't bent over backwards to make sure that I would have it for them, you know, they would not have been able to get in the pharmacy and they wouldn't be able to get it anywhere else.

And I know that my colleagues across Ontario are struggling with the same thing. ... It's also demoralizing when we say, "But we don't have it," and then the public persona, the politician says, "Oh, yes, but there's more than enough to go around. Just be patient."

It's just this pattern of lack of support for the people in the community, many of whom don't have a family doctor, which is another issue which we should be addressing.... But even for those who do have family doctors, why don't their family doctors or their pediatricians have the flu shot in stock?

And for the people who don't have it and are lining up at pharmacies or trying to sign up to do it at public health clinics — well, what if they don't have access to a computer? What if they're not technologically savvy or they don't have the resources to be online the moment that you can reserve a time slot for a flu shot?

It's the same as with getting the COVID testing done ... All the same vulnerable populations are being left out.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford ... said that the flu shot would be available. He addressed the issue yesterday. I just want to play a little bit of what he had to say:

Let me flip this around. Isn't this great news that we've seen an increase of flu shots of 500 per cent? People are listening. And we're doing everything we can. As for Rexall, my friends in Rexall, you knew the allocations that you had. So don't overbook people. It's very simple as that. You knew exactly how many flu shots you had, similar to Shoppers. So don't overbook. If you know you have X amount of flu shots, book X amount of flu shots. But, you know, if you have 100 flu shots, don't book 200 people.

How do you respond to the premier?

So I think we call that gaslighting.

For Premier Doug Ford to say that they've done everything that they can and that it's the fault of the pharmacists for overbooking — it's not actually addressing the issue, which is that there was never enough flu vaccine ordered. The population of Ontario is much larger than the number of flu shots that he ordered.

And it's all crumbs. It's crumbs that we're getting, where we're told well, if doctors can't cope, then there must be something wrong with doctors. And if nurses can't cope, there must be something wrong with nurses. If PSWs are quitting their jobs, there must be something wrong with them as opposed to there's something wrong with our health-care system.

And how is this going to work when it comes to the COVID vaccine? That's the really scary thing. And it's going to be the same people who have the resources and who can pull strings who are going to have access to a vaccine, while the people who most need it are not going to have access to it. And we are going to be blamed.

It's exhausting and it's demoralizing. And we're worried for our patients, particularly for those who are most vulnerable.- Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth

Other provinces are also struggling with long waits and these logistical problems. And then, as you just mentioned, to pile on top of the issue with COVID. And they're called the "twindemics," the threat of both. So what are Canadians faced with ... if we can't fix this, if we can't get access to these vaccines?

What we're worried about is that we don't have the capacity for people to be hospitalized with influenza as well as COVID. We don't have a way to deal with that at an acute-care level. 

We hear sometimes, even for influenza, we hear, "Well, it's just the flu." And we take issue with that because influenza can kill.

In the longer term ... so much emphasis is put on, "Well, you know, don't worry, Canada is going to develop a vaccine for COVID. Don't worry, we're going to make sure that every Canadian can get this vaccine."

Why shouldn't we be worrying? Like, nothing has happened that was supposed to happen in this scenario in our province or in other provinces in terms of the resources getting to the community.

It's exhausting and it's demoralizing. And we're worried for our patients, particularly for those who are most vulnerable.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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