A change in how flu shots are being prioritized at the Gibsons Public Health Unit this year – in conjunction with the closure of a Gibsons pharmacy – has at least one doctor concerned about the availability of the influenza vaccine in the community.
“There’s a significant number of extra flu shots to be done, and we don’t think we can really absorb those kind of numbers,” said Dr. John Hourigan of Gibsons Medical Clinic, the only walk-in clinic on the Sunshine Coast.
This flu season the Gibsons Public Health Unit is expected to prioritize its weekly clinics for families with children or infants and “may redirect others to pharmacies,” according to public health officer Geoff McKee.
For several years pharmacies have been offering free influenza vaccines to those who meet provincial eligibility criteria, but they do not vaccinate children under the age of five.
“Since pharmacies are unable to immunize very young children, [the] Public Health [Unit] remains the primary source of influenza vaccine for families in the community, and as such will be focusing our flu vaccine clinics this year on young children and families,” McKee told Coast Reporter, adding that the change is “a result of the success that we’ve had in really getting vaccines available in the community as we’ve increased accessibility with pharmacies.”
According to Hourigan, last flu season Gibsons pharmacies administered approximately 1,900 vaccinations, in addition to 230 shots provided by the walk-in clinic, and approximately 240 administered by the Public Health Unit.
But approximately 500 of those vaccines were provided by Coast Naturals pharmacy, which has since closed, leaving hundreds of flu shots that “need to be made up for this year,” according to Hourigan.
Hourigan said existing Gibsons pharmacies “have expressed an inability to increase volume” this season.
“To me, it’s just a public health responsibility. Of all the things they do, immunizations should be a very high priority for them,” he said, referring to the Public Health Unit.
McKee told Coast Reporter he wasn’t aware of the pharmacy closure, but said other pharmacies will be able to handle the overflow. “I know they’re well aware and preparing to make sure they meet the demand this year,” he said.
Pharmacists at Sunshine Coast drugstores told Coast Reporter it is a “challenge” to meet the increasing demand.
Eric Kosiuk, pharmacist at Howe Sound Pharmacy in Gibsons, supports using pharmacies to relieve the burden for walk-in and public health clinics while also acknowledging that the demand for the vaccine can be challenging for some pharmacies from a staffing perspective.
At the start of flu season, “it’s a zoo everywhere,” he said. “It just depends on the model they use in the pharmacy, but I totally agree that people shouldn’t be waiting at walk-in clinics and booking appointments through GPs just to get a flu shots.
“It’s way more expensive to do it that way than to do it through a pharmacy, so I think pharmacies should just buck up and take one for the team for a month.”