Ontario family physicians warn supply is drying up as they see increased demand for influenza vaccine

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During a typical flu season, Dr. Alisa Naiman begins offering the vaccine to her patients at the end of October.This time around, as fears revolved around a “twindemic” featuring both the flu and COVID-19, the Toronto family doctor began responding to calls from concerned patients as early as September.

“We’ve never had so much demand,” she says.

But while the Naiman clinic in North York has 7,000 patients, it has so far received only 500 injections, including 150 in high doses for the already exhausted elderly.

Other Ontario health care providers, from family physicians to hospital workers, are also documenting the surge in demand and worrying that limited supplies of the flu vaccine are drying up quickly – despite the provincial assurance that other cycles are underway.

“We always pretend to do something that we don’t do,” said Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa.

Kaplan-Myrth has 1,400 patients in its clinic, but has only received 140 regular injections of the flu vaccine and 15 high-dose versions. It’s not enough, she said, to cover more than 180 patients over 65.

“Who should I give the high dose to and who should I turn to?” she says.

Pharmacists also note their first rounds of flu shots are running out quickly, as CBC Toronto reported earlier this week, with lineups also spotted at some drugstores in Toronto in recent days.

21% increase in demand

Growing concern comes as the province invests $ 70 million to purchase more than five million doses of the flu vaccine, which is 700,000 more than approximate usage last year.

Ontario will also purchase additional doses as needed, according to the Ministry of Health.

“At the end of September, the first shipments of influenza vaccines began to be delivered to public health units, long-term care homes and hospitals to prioritize vulnerable populations,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Wider community distribution of influenza vaccine, including to primary care providers and pharmacies, is being rolled out and will continue in the coming weeks.

Dr. Alisa Naiman gives a flu shot outside of her clinic in North York, Ont., To one of her approximately 7,000 patients. (Lauren Pelley / CBC)

Continued supply will be critical given strong demand, which also increased during the 2019-20 flu season, according to new data from Ontario’s COVID-19 Prescription Drug Utilization Tool which just launched on Thursday.

The online dashboard tool – developed by scientists at the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) – monitors trends in prescription drug use across the province based on pharmacy distribution.

Data shows a 21% increase in demand for influenza vaccines in the 2019-20 season, which overlapped the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, compared to the previous year.

“We think he’s probably predicting what we’ll see in Wave 2 – demand in pharmacies and clinics,” said Mina Tadrous, scientist at Women’s College Hospital and researcher at ODPRN.

A better “distribution” strategy is needed

Along with public demand, Toronto emergency physician David Carr said there are issues with access to the supply available to frontline healthcare workers.

This is because front-line staff in hospitals cannot get vaccinated by the usual methods of rapidly administering vaccines in hospitals – for example, staff gathering around ‘flu carts’ to receive fluids. injections – because it violates the physical distance rule in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, he says.

This leaves frontline staff vulnerable to trying to make appointments with their family doctor or pharmacy as well as the general public, which proves difficult for healthcare workers facing long working hours and long waits alongside all those who want to be vaccinated.

“Usually I brag about being the first to get the flu shot,” Carr said. “I still haven’t had it and neither have my colleagues. ”

Even so, CBC News health care providers agreed that it is good news that the public is lining up in droves to get vaccinated, which could prevent the double epidemic that Carr and others fear expanding hospitals beyond their capacity.

But Naiman also said the frustrations felt by healthcare teams and their patients over the phased deployment and early limited supply of this year’s flu vaccine must be a lesson for the future after a COVID-19 vaccine is finally available.

“The government needs to figure out how to better distribute it,” she said.

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