By Vivian Moreau
Flu shots for sale to Sea to Sky residents are at a premium this year, with dosages for those not at risk of catching the bug in short supply.
Although the region’s chief medical officer is aiming to immunize 80 per cent of those people deemed high risk, there are few options for those willing to pay for a flu vaccine.
Whistler pharmacist Cynthia Narusis says she was unable to order supplies for anyone not in the high risk category. High risk includes babies, toddlers, seniors, health care workers, those with immune disorders, as well as other groups.
One of three manufacturers producing the vaccine for Canada had difficulty growing one of three virus strains included in the vaccine, Narusis said, and Marketplace Pharmasave has not been able to obtain any supply for people who’d like to be vaccinated but don’t fall into the high risk categories.
Last week Dr. Cathryn Zeglinski went through the 50 dosages she had ordered for Northlands Clinic in 24 hours. She managed to secure another 30 from a Vancouver physician but had almost sold out of the vaccine by Tuesday afternoon. She said physicians in Squamish have told her they are not able to get hold of any vaccine dosages.
“As physicians we’re trying to do public health measures to provide flu shots with the influenza vaccine, but due to the shortage we’re limited in our ability to carry out public health measures.” Zeglinski said.
Dr. Patricia Daly is responsible for communicable disease control for Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. She confirmed that this spring one of the three vaccine manufacturers had difficulty getting one of the three strains to grow, resulting in delayed shipments. Increased demand for the vaccine from health units across the country also placed a strain on supplies.
B.C.’s Centre for Disease Control ordered 1,233,000 flu vaccine doses for B.C. residents deemed high risk, a six per cent increase over 2005.
Three strains included in the vaccine are A-New Caledonia, A-Wisconsin, and B-Malaysia. The World Health Organization determines what strains to include in the vaccine, based on what strains circulated in Canada last winter and in Australia this year, whose flu season has just ended.
The vaccine is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur of Lyon, France, British-based Glaxo-Smith Kline and Belgium’s Solvay. Sanofi Pasteur was the manufacturer that experienced production problems this spring.
Dr. Paul Martiquet, medical health officer for the Sea to Sky corridor, said 4,500 dosages were ordered for the region this year. Last year 2,770 high-risk individuals, or 66 per cent of that risk category, were vaccinated in the region between November, 2005 and March, 2006. Eighty-five per cent of those people living in long-term care facilities and 69 per cent of health care workers in the region were vaccinated. Martiquet hopes to raise the 66 per cent average to 80 per cent this season.
“Each time you get a flu vaccine it actually increases your immune response and your body’s ability to cope with the virus when it comes in contact with it, so having had a vaccine in the past means that this next vaccine will be all the more beneficial,” Martiquet said.
Although flu vaccines for those at risk arrived late in the region this fall, delayed vaccination may have a positive spin.
“It will mean that people will actually be more immune in the peak of the season when they really need to have the immunity,” Martiquet said.
Free flu clinics are being held for those at risk in Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish until the beginning of December. For more information, contact health units in those communities.
Pharmasave’s Narusis said she has been encouraging those people who want to pay for a flu shot to head to Vancouver medical centres.
Zeglinski said those not considered high risk who can’t obtain a flu shot should be diligent about maintaining healthy habits.
“That includes washing your hands, eating well, sleeping well, and avoiding really sick people because there’s going to be an insufficient amount of flu vaccine available.”