Canadians living in B.C., Alberta, New Brunswick and Ontario are more likely to get the flu shot because they have longstanding programs that allow pharmacists to dole out the vaccine, according to a new study.
Canadian researchers out of the universities of Toronto, Waterloo, Calgary, Dalhousie and B.C. say pharmacists help with vaccination uptake because they provide an easy to access option for people to get the flu shot.
“This is the first time anyone has looked at the impact in Canada,” study co-author, Dr. Jeffrey Kwong, told Global News.
“You’re five per cent more likely to get a flu shot if you’re living in a province with this policy than a person living in a province without this program…pharmacists are more accessible than doctors, they have longer hours, you don’t have to make an appointment and you see them when you’re picking up a prescription,” Kwong explained.
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Kwong is a family physician and researcher at Public Health Ontario and the University of Toronto.
He and his national team pored over the Statistics Canada health data of more than 480,000 people from 2007 to 2014. During the seven-year time period, flu vaccine uptake declined, except for in provinces with policies that had pharmacists doling out flu shots, too.
Across the board, people were more likely to get vaccinated if they were over 50, female, living in cities, had post-secondary education, a higher income and were grappling with chronic conditions.
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Immigrants, daily smokers and those who are in “excellent health” tend to avoid the flu shot, they found.
In the U.S., all states allow pharmacists to administer the flu shot. In Canada, it depends on the province.
B.C. and Alberta ushered in their programs that allowed pharmacists to hand out flu shots in 2009. By 2010, New Brunswick followed suit while Ontario implemented its own policy in 2012.
By 2015, all provinces — except for Quebec — gave pharmacists the duties of vaccinating during flu season. Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon still don’t, according to the research.
(These territories and provinces — Quebec and B.C. — don’t have universal funding for the flu shot either, which means Canadians pay out of pocket or through their coverage.)
“The bottom line is the more providers you have out there, the better,” Kwong told Global News.
Academics have been pushing for giving pharmacists an expanded role, adding they’re going to play a crucial role as Canada deals with an aging population.
Right now, depending on the province you live in, your pharmacist can prescribe or take away medication, order and interpret lab results and even swap medications or tweak dosages instead of having the patient wait for a doctor’s appointment.
Kwong’s study was published Monday afternoon in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. His next steps are to figure out where Canadians are getting their flu shots — whether in a doctor’s office or through their local pharmacist, for example.
Read the full findings.