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Demand for flu shot up 500% at Ontario pharmacies compared to 2019

Click to play video 'Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he won’t get flu shot until ‘every single person’ in Ontario has theirs' Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he won’t get flu shot until ‘every single person’ in Ontario has theirs
(Oct. 23) Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he would not get his flu shot until he knows "every single person in this province, every senior" has received theirs – Oct 23, 2020

The head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association says pharmacies in the province have seen a 500 per cent increase in demand for the flu shot so far this year compared to 2019.

Justin Bates told Global News that the demand is outpacing the supply.

“Most pharmacies have either run out or are very close to depleting the stock of the vaccine and we’re having to rebook or cancel appointments for patients,” Bates said.

“A large part of the demand increase is the greater awareness, certainly with the pandemic and a lot of the education out there on the importance of getting the flu shot to avoid any capacity issues with the health-care system related to the flu.”

Read more: Big demand in B.C. for seniors’ high-dose flu shot

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Bates said even though there is supply strain, it’s good that more people “are starting to see the value of getting a flu shot.”

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In addition to the overall increase in demand, there are less clinics happening through primary care physicians and public health units, resulting in more people going to pharmacies, Bates said.

In a statement, Ministry of Health spokesperson David Jensen told Global News that Ontario pharmacies normally administer 150,000 flu shots by mid-October. This year, that figure was closer to 800,000.

As of Oct. 28, a total of over 4.6 million doses of the vaccine were distributed in Ontario, 1.4 million more compared to the same time in 2019.

“The province continues to receive regular shipments of its total order, in addition to continuing to explore all options to procure additional flu vaccine doses,” Jensen said.

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Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has been in contact with federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu to request that the feds work with manufacturers to deliver the rest of Ontario’s flu vaccines purchased through the national bulk program “at an accelerated rate,” Jensen added.

Elliott also requested that Hajdu “explore the provision of additional doses beyond what was procured.”

“We have also reached out to our private sector partners to identify additional opportunities to procure supply beyond the historic levels that have already been distributed to Ontarians,” Jensen said.

Bates said he wants to see more vaccines directed to pharmacies, though Jensen wouldn’t comment directly on that request and referred to the statement detailing the province’s overall work to obtain more doses.

Government figures show that influenza cases are low in the province compared to previous years, indicating that the “historic uptake of the flu vaccine”, combined with COVID-19 health and safety protocols, is working, Jensen said.