Ontario places yearly influenza vaccine order, expects growing interest amid pandemic

In this file photo someone receives a dose of influenza vaccine. File / Global News

As the province continues to roll out its COVID-19 vaccination plan, there are concerns surrounding what will happen once we reach herd immunity and influenza season hits.

“People are going to go back to their normal routines and so we will end up seeing influenza making its way back into the picture,” explains Toronto-based clinical pharmacologist Sabina Vohra-Miller.

“We should be increasing our numbers that we’re getting, what we’re securing this year to at least have that ability to ramp up should the demand exist for even higher.”

Read more: Flu cases hit record lows during pandemic, researcher says

Due to the ongoing pandemic and spotlight on vaccines, it’s expected that at least 60 to 70 per cent of Ontarians will want to be vaccinated for influenza in 2021 compared to approximately 40 per cent in previous years.

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“Based on this year’s capacity, six million flu shots delivered, we’ve added a significant extra capacity for next year on the assumption people are paying attention to this,” Ontario’s minister of health, Christine Elliott, said during a news conference at Queen’s Park.

“We’ve seen very few cases of flu this year, partly because of people getting the shot and partly because of people continuing to follow public health measures but we anticipate that there will be even more people next year that want to receive the flu shot so we’ve ordered accordingly.”

Click to play video: 'The connection between pandemic practices and flu declines' The connection between pandemic practices and flu declines
The connection between pandemic practices and flu declines – Mar 15, 2021

Traditionally, this is the time of the year when provinces and the country begin to look forward as they acquire vaccines for the coming season, however, it’s unclear how many influenza vaccines Ontario will receive as the national contract continues to be negotiated.

Seniors’ advocates have concerns that people’s drive to get vaccinated will lead to a shortage, similar to what Ontario experienced last fall.

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“Unless we have government paying attention to this ordering now, we are going to be right back in another epidemic likely in the fall,” said Laura Tamblyn-Watts, who represents CanAge, a nationally recognized seniors’ advocacy group.

“We’re very worried that the government will look back to 2020 and say we don’t need much flu vaccine at all, which is certainly not the case.”

On average 12,000 Canadians are hospitalized with influenza each year and more than 3,500 die from complications related to the viral infection.

The Ford government says it submitted its flu vaccine quantities to the federal government by February for the national bulk vaccine procurement program but didn’t provide an actual number of doses, only writing in a statement that “the province has increased its quantities for influenza vaccine for the 2021/2022 influenza season.”

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