Flu vaccine shortage means long wait-lists

By Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Flu vaccine shortage means long wait-lists
Pharmacist-Intern Ryan Gilmer – Gilmer Pharmacy Copyright - Phillip Blancher

IROQUOIS – If you are looking to get the flu shot this year in South Dundas, you may be waiting a long time for the vaccine. Local pharmacies, including Iroquois-based Gilmer Pharmacy, are out of stock with long waiting lists forming.

“We’re completely out,” said Ryan Gilmer,  Pharmacist-Intern at Gilmer Pharmacy in Iroquois.

Gilmer explained that as this is the first year the pharmacy has offered flu shots, it received a lower quantity of the vaccine to start. However the pharmacy hasn’t been able to order more in and joins other pharmacies in the region that are experiencing shortage. Gilmer estimated the wait lists from South Dundas’ pharmacies are over 1,200 people. He said that none of the pharmacies are unable to get any doses of the flu vaccine through its supply-chain.

“Our suppliers are out,” he said. “The allocation to pharmacies are so small that they can’t keep up with demand.”

In Ontario, the provincial government orders flu shots through a procurement program with the federal government. The province’s order is then split between segregated supply chains for health units, long-term care facilities, medical clinics, and pharmacies.

With the shortage from pharmacy suppliers, Gilmer said that there had been discussions with the pharmacy and the Iroquois-Matilda Lions Club hosting a flu clinic in Iroquois. The group asked the Eastern Ontario Health Unit about supplying the vaccine for a clinic but he said they were told no.

“[The health unit] told them to contact a pharmacy instead,” Gilmer said of the health unit’s response.

The EOHU does plan to operate two flu clinics, one in Casselman, the other in Cornwall, and also offers vaccinations at its offices, by appointment only. The nearest EOHU offices are in Winchester and Cornwall.

“What’s being asked by officials is for people to go from an area with very low infection like South Dundas, to places like Cornwall where there are more infections,” Gilmer said. “For people who can’t travel, there is nowhere else for them to get a flu shot here with the doctors’ office now closed.”

The St. Lawrence Medical Clinic closed its Iroquois office in 2018, consolidating its operations in Morrisburg.

Gilmer said that he’d like to see some of the flu vaccine supply at the health unit reallocated to pharmacies as they are on the front lines for distribution.

Even with the health unit saying no to supplying a clinic, Gilmer said the pharmacy is still taking names for their wait-list and trying to get more supplies of the vaccine.

“We’re trying to get more everyday,” he said. “If you’re on our list, you’re still on our list.”

Gilmer added that the main way a re-allocation would happen would be at a provincial level as the push for flu shots this year is being driven by the Ontario government. He encouraged those waiting to contact local Member of Provincial Parliament Jim McDonell to help deal with the supply issues.

Gilmer Pharmacy isn’t the only South Dundas pharmacy that cannot get more supplies of the flu vaccine. Scott Lane with Seaway Valley Pharmacy in Morrisburg said that they normally receive 800 doses of the flu shot per year.

“So far we received 400, we were shorted,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get more, but we’ve had to cancel appointments.”

Across town at the Upper Canada Remedy’s Rx, that pharmacy also was shorted its initial dosage by 60 per cent and have a wait list that is “pages and pages long.”

The Leader contacted the St. Lawrence Medical Clinic in Morrisburg to find out if they are still offering the flu vaccine. No response was received by press time.

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for the EOHU responded during his thrice-weekly media availability to the lack of supply of flu vaccine for pharmacies. He told The Leader that health units no longer directly supply pharmacies.

“That goes through Ontario,” he said referring to Ministry of Health designated supply for pharmacies. “That said I’d like to look at how we could facilitate that in that area,” he said. “I don’t know of that Lions’ club request but I will look into that.”

The province embarked this year on its largest-ever flu vaccine drive, hoping to curb a “twin-demic” of hospitalizations from COVID-19 and influenza.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in October that the government had secured. 5.3 million doses in its initial order. Since then, Ford said he had secured another 500,000 doses. According to Statistics Canada, Ontario has a population of 14.57 million people.

This story was originally written for and published in the Morrisburg Leader.

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