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Pharmacists’ association lobbies for universal coverage

Pharmacist Darren Tucker delivers a flu shot to a patient.
Pharmacist Darren Tucker delivers a flu shot to a patient.

Providing the public with free flu shots would be ideal.

This is the premise the Pharmacists’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL) has been pitching for more than three years.

“We continue to advocate for that,” PANL executive director Glenda Power said Monday.

“These shots are free in all other provinces. We are the last holdout. All Canadians get their shots covered except for us here in Newfoundland and Labrador. They need to remove this barrier,” she said.

Access to flu shots is the primary concern, and Power said she hopes all options are put out there for the public to get the vaccine, not only for personal protection, but for vulnerable individuals who come into contact with others each day and who can become ill from influenza.

That would mean residents of this province could obtain these shots from their pharmacists, in addition to the current practice of getting a shot at the doctor’s office or at a public clinic. The province would be billed for each shot.

Power said statistics show Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest vaccination rates in the country, the oldest population, the sickest population and the highest rates of chronic disease and diabetes.

“All these people are at high risk to (suffer) serious side-effects from the flu,” she said.


Universal program sought

Pharmacists in this province have been giving flu shots at their stores since the government signed off on the program in 2014.

The lone caveat to the program was that those who have a Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Drug Program (NLPDP) card would receive the shot for free. All others would be required to pay a fee or submit it to their own private health care programs.

The cost of those shots for individuals with no coverage is in the $20-25 range.

In contrast, if you walk into a pharmacy in Nova Scotia and show your MSI card (the equivalent to this province’s MCP card), you receive a flu shot at no cost to the recipient.

If the government enacted this type of universal program, a study by the Public Health Agency of Canada says the cost/benefits to all residents of the province would be enormous, Power said.

Spending just $1 per patient 65 years or older for influenza vaccine would result in savings of more than 4,000 per cent to the tune of $45 per patient, according to the assessment.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association launched a campaign last week calling on the government to reinstate doctor-delivered flu shots.

Health Minister John Haggie countered by saying he wants doctors working to the maximum of their skills and concentrating on complex and complicated disease problems that no others can deal with, and allow nurse practitioners to do the bulk of the immunizing.

Power said there are no changes to the flu immunization program at this time for pharmacists.

“If you are interested in a flu shot, contact your pharmacist and they can advise you on whether you are covered or not, or what you have to do,” Power said.

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