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Alberta prepares for flu season despite delays in vaccine shipments

WATCH ABOVE: Flu shots are arriving in pharmacies and doctors' offices across Alberta as the province prepares for the upcoming flu season. Adam MacVicar reports.

Flu shots are arriving at pharmacies and doctors’ offices across the province this week as Alberta health officials prepare for the upcoming flu season.

According to provincial officials, enough vaccines have been ordered to immunize 35 per cent of the population at a cost of $12.5 million.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro received his flu shot on Friday and urged Albertans to get theirs sooner rather than later.

Growing concerns about possible flu vaccine shortage
Growing concerns about possible flu vaccine shortage

“I’m here to say four words: get your flu shot,” Shandro said. “Getting your flu shot is important and it’s a great way to try and protect yourself, but to also protect vulnerable people who may be around you.”

Last year, 1,317,659 Albertans were vaccinated for influenza, which translates to 31 per cent of the province. That number was up from 29 per cent the year earlier.

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There were 7,698 confirmed cases of influenza in Alberta last year, resulting in 52 deaths. Those numbers were lower than in 2017-18 when there were 9,609 cases and 92 deaths.

READ MORE: Flu shots available in Alberta starting Oct. 23; AHS not offering nasal spray

However, health officials are not making any predictions for the upcoming flu season following an early but less severe flu season in the southern hemisphere.

In June 2019, the Australian government reported 31,220 people were diagnosed with the flu. In June 2018, there were only 1,984.

“At this point, we don’t have any indication that we’re going to be any earlier than we were last year,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health at Alberta Health. “In the southern hemisphere, it was not a severe flu season, so that’s good news.”

Alberta clinics and pharmacies offer a four-strain influenza vaccine, which is produced by two manufacturers, to Albertans as young as six months old.

But production of the vaccine has been delayed, which has prompted health officials to monitor any potential shortages of flu shots in the province.

“We are aware that there have been some production issues with some manufacturers that supply the vaccine to Canada,” Hinshaw said. “So far, we have not had to delay any of our shipments out to pharmacies or physician offices for AHS, and we anticipate the large public clinics will go ahead on [Oct. 21].”

Oct. 21 is the kickoff date for larger flu clinics and when flu shots will be available across the province.

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But flu shots have been available at some larger pharmacies and clinics since Oct. 1, following changes to the rollout this year.

The changes have caused some confusion for some Albertans looking to get vaccinated.

“There was no policy decision about who would receive it first or not, that was all about logistics and we shipped as we got vaccines to those who had ordered it, and then the wholesalers send out through their mechanisms,” Hinshaw said.

“We recognize in this rollout that there has been some confusion, and that has been unfortunate, but the advantage of making it available as early as it was in those doctors’ offices and pharmacies was the reason we made that decision.”

READ MORE: When should you get the flu shot in Canada?

Earlier available vaccines have created a busy work environment for Dan O’Connell, a pharmacist at Mint Blue Bottle in Calgary.

The pharmacy received its shipment of vaccines earlier this week and has since had over 200 visits from those seeking a flu shot.

“It’s actually an increase over last year, especially with the early release of the vaccine,” O’Connell said. “The earlier we can vaccinate those who are vulnerable and at risk of the respiratory illness that we know influenza causes, the better.”

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A list of clinics where the vaccine is available can be found at www.ahs.ca/influenza.