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'Have to be on our toes': B.C. pharmacies busy first day of flu vaccine rollout

In just one day, a B.C. pharmacist administered 100 vaccine doses.

Pharmacists across B.C. are being flooded with eager people wanting to get their influenza vaccine on the very first day of appointments being offered.

Anoop Khurana, a pharmacist-owner at two Vancouver-area Shoppers Drug Marts, says he administered more than 100 doses on just the first day the vaccine was available.

“The messaging has come through that get vaccinated earlier this year,” he says. “So people are definitely rolling up their sleeves early, knowing that it takes two weeks at least to get full immunity.”

This year, for the first time, British Columbians are being notified through the GetVaccinated texting service, the same one used for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. B.C. residents who haven't registered through the online portal are encouraged to do so.

Khurana's pharmacy is spacing the appointments out so people have the option to get both the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

“If they booked for COVID vaccine booster and they want to get the flu [vaccine], we do have allocated time to provide both vaccines. So that's something we're now really focused on doing as well. Because, you know, it is convenient to get both at the same time rather than staggering, if that's what you want,” he said.

Most people get one vaccine in each arm, he adds.

Khurana says there is high demand this year for the flu vaccine after COVID-19.

“Typically, numbers are higher earlier in the flu campaign, and then they kind of wane, which is actually the ideal situation because you want to be protected early so that there's less spread in the community.”  

Town Centre Pharmacy in Coquitlam is booked solid with people wanting to get immunized against the flu.

Pharmacist Dennis Taruc says they’re getting lots of phone calls from people who do not know how to book their shot. 

"So we're kind of having to do it for them, which adds to a lot of the workload for us,” says Taruc. “It was meant for them to do it on their own, but then people don’t know how to do it on their own… the general public.”

Taruc told Glacier Media he didn not overbook himself; on the opening day, he administered about 50 vaccines. 

"I just hope people understand that we can't get everybody in right now. It's only been day two of flu season and people want it on day one. But it's not physically possible to do that,” he says.

He’s also faced with walk-ins and he’s having to refuse them. 

“Some people are getting two vaccines at one time, so that adds more work,” he says. “We are managing. We have to be on our toes.” 

How much flu vaccine supply is there?

All B.C. residents, six months and older, can get their influenza vaccine for free this year. 

B.C. is distributing more than 1.8 million doses for this year’s flu season, including more than 660,000 doses of enhanced influenza vaccines for seniors.

For Taruc, he's not concerned about supply as he did not overbook his pharmacy; however, he has heard from other pharmacies that did.

Khurana agrees supply will depend on the individual pharmacy.

“It is right now being pushed out by the government to make sure it's evenly distributed across all types of vaccination centres. And then … there'll be like several shipments and once individual sites are running low then eventually they’ll have the option to reorder more if they are getting a higher uptake,” says Khurana. 

Projection for this year's flu season 

Health officials are calling for an earlier and more severe flu season.

In a statement this week, the Ministry of Health states there were low influenza rates over the last two years due to public-health restrictions, and reduced travel and socialization. 

"This could be a really bad flu season this year in Canada, based on Australia's high flu levels, and typically Canada mimics what happens in Australia,” says Khurana. "So it seems like a lot of the community are realizing how important it is to be protected this fall by getting their flu vaccine and also COVID vaccine or booster at the same time.”

He adds that even if you are a young and healthy individual it is still important to consider getting the flu vaccine. 

“Anybody can get the flu and because every year, even if you've had flu vaccines in the past, there are different strains that circulate in the community,” he says. 

How to register for your flu vaccine in B.C.

Instead of booking a vaccine through your local pharmacy, you can book your vaccines online. Visit the GetVaccinated website to register.

There is an option to call the provincial call centre at 1-833-838-2323.

Alternatively, you could test your luck and walk into a pharmacy.

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