Lethbridge pharmacy faces challenge with initial vaccine rollouts

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge pharmacy faces challenge in initial vaccine rollouts'
Lethbridge pharmacy faces challenge in initial vaccine rollouts
WATCH: From influenza to COVID boosters and RSV shots, one Lethbridge pharmacy says they've run into a few challenges in the first two weeks of the vaccine campaign. Sarah Jones reports – Oct 31, 2023

The latest round of immunizations hasn’t rolled out as smoothly as years past at The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in south Lethbridge.

Owner and pharmacist Vishal Sukhadiva explained that in the first two weeks of the influenza vaccine campaign, staff encountered a few challenges.

“We didn’t get enough vaccine that we were hoping for,” said Sukhadiva. “So, first week was kind of chaotic, because we generally do about 700 to 800 shots — first week, you know, minimum — and we only got 100 shots to work with.”

The shortage in flu shots saw hundreds of pre-booked appointments cancelled.

Sukhadiya shared that they’ve since received more stock in vaccines and they’re catching up on appointments and walk-ins, but high-dose influenza vaccines, something recommended to seniors, are still limited.

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“So generally, every year what happens is they only release a minimum quantity of high-dose flu shots to all pharmacies and by the end of the flu season they dump a big chunk of high-dose flu shots at the pharmacy to sit and expire,” Sukhadiya said.

“It would be better if they would roll out enough high-dose flu shots from the beginning to cover all of our senior populations, because they are about 24 per cent more effective than the regular flu shots.”

Alberta Health told Global News that as of Oct. 21, influenza vaccines have been administered to over 358,000 Albertans, which is comparable to rates seen in the past.

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The new COVID-19 booster campaign has been running more effectively, with Sukhadiya indicating they’ve also seen an uptick in people coming in to receive new boosters alongside their influenza shot.

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He also shared there’s been an interest in the RSV vaccine, but the price of that one is stopping many seniors from getting the jab.

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Sukhadiya added that 90 per cent of his senior clients can’t afford it.

According to Alberta Health, the RSV vaccine clinical trials showed 82.6-per cent efficacy for prevention of lower respiratory tract disease (LRTD) in older adults, and 94.6-per cent efficacy in those with underlying medical conditions.

Health Canada approved the vaccine on Aug. 4, 2023, for those 60 years of age and older, as Arexvy is said to lower LRTD caused by the respiratory syncytial virus.

However, the province isn’t funding the $270 shot, forcing anyone eligible to pay out of pocket or through private health insurance.

For seniors on a fixed budget, the cost is a stretch.

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Rob Miyashiro, executive director with the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization (LSCO), says not funding the vaccine is short-sighted on the province’s part.

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“The people that really need it, they need it now, and they need it to help them fight off the effects of this virus,” said Miyashiro. “I know in Ontario, people over 60, people living in group care, lodges, long term-care, things like that, they are getting the vaccine for free… and our government’s not covering it right now.

“One of the things is the sicker you get, the more healthcare you need. And that $300 shot or whatever it is, is going to prevent thousands of possible dollars of health care. Someone in intensive care? Thousands and thousands of dollars per day, so I think it’s certainly something that the provincial government needs to look at.”

Alberta Health has said it will review federal recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization on the RSV vaccine next fall,

“If the analysis demonstrates that there is benefit to population health and funds can be secure for the vaccine inventory budget, then the vaccine is added to Alberta’s provincially funded immunization program,” Albert Health stated.

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