Flu shot appointment slots filling up quickly, but no need to panic

Flu shot appointments in public health clinics are filling up quickly since the online booking system opened Thursday, with many sites across the Island showing more than a two-week wait.

But there’s still lots of time to get a flu shot, and there’s no need to panic, said Island Health medical health officer Dr. Dee Hoyano. “The good news right now is that we have essentially no influenza activity. So we’re trying to encourage people to get vaccinated before our typical flu season starts, which is in December. So they don’t need to get vaccinated tomorrow.”

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The availability of appointments in public health clinics varies by location, from at least two weeks’ wait at sites in Victoria and Saanich to just a few days on Hornby Island.

Hoyano said there’s a healthy supply of vaccine doses for what appears to be a rise in interest in flu shots this year.

Island Health is encouraging adults and children over the age of five to look first for appointments with their family doctor or at a pharmacy.

Bryce Wong, director of pharmacy practice and ­support with the B.C. Pharmacy ­Association, said there’s been pent-up demand for flu shots, with some pharmacies starting wait lists for appointments in August. Some pharmacies on the Island have reported challenges accessing doses, but there’s no issue with manufacturing the vaccine and more is on the way, Wong said.

Flu shots are distributed throughout B.C. in a staggered fashion, so if pharmacies are out at one point, they’ll likely be restocked soon, he said.

Andrew Formosa, manager of Aaronson’s Compounding Pharmacy in Victoria, said he has administered more flu shots in the past two weeks than he would normally give out during the four-month ­influenza season. “That experience is not unique to us. It seems to be that all other pharmacies are experiencing the same thing,” he said.

Formosa said the pharmacy, which normally only stocks publicly funded flu shots, is seeing more interest in privately funded vaccines this year. “We anticipated a higher demand, so we’ve branched into the privately funded vaccines, and it’s been very, very, very popular,” he said.

Some people opt to pay for a vaccine because it’s easier to access a privately funded vaccine at the moment, and others believe the options available are more effective than what’s publicly offered, he said.

At his pharmacy, they’re all out of publicly funded flu shots, but are still taking appointments for doses paid for out-of-pocket.

Formosa said ensuring a steady and equitable supply of flu shots is complicated, because doses need to be refrigerated, so pharmacies order small amounts frequently to keep up with demand.

Island Health has received most of its initial order of 325,000 doses from the near two million provincial doses, Hoyano said Thursday. That’s up 60,000 doses from last year. And more can be ordered, she said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Cindy E. Harnett

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