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Pharmacists sound alarm about Newfoundland and Labrador flu season

A flu shot is a good prevention against a pending influenza pandemic that worries the Public Health Agency of Canada.
A flu shot is a good prevention against a pending influenza pandemic that worries the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The Pharmacists’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL) says the province has limited patients’ options for flu shots this year and is worried about the potential impacts of low vaccination rates during an expected rough flu season.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the second lowest flu vaccination rate in the country and limited access for publicly funded vaccines when compared to other provinces, PANL said Thursday in a news release.

PANL president Steve Gillingham said the provincial government should implement broaden the offering of funded flu shots through public health clinics, physician offices and pharmacies to increase immunization rates.

Pharmacies charge $20-25 to people not covered under the provincial drug plan — that includes the cost of the shot plus administering it.

While there are public flu clinics scheduled through the health authorities, the province this year did away with doctors being able to give out flu shots under a flu-shot fee of $17 billed to MCP. (Patients can try scheduling a regular doctor’s appointment and ask for a flu shot, but a doctor’s appointment costs MCP $32.)

For patients who are covered under the provincial drug plan (including eligible low-income earners) the province pays pharmacies $13 for each shot.

“The immunization rate for influenza in this province is abysmal,” said Gillingham. “Indications are that this upcoming flu season could be very nasty – with Australia and other areas in the Southern Hemisphere already having one of the worst flu seasons in history, with increased cases of influenza, more hospitalization and a greater number of deaths. Influenza is a very serious disease and we should be doing everything we can to encourage patients to get immunized by creating more avenues for them to access the flu shot, as opposed to what the current provincial government is doing in limiting the options for residents in getting immunized. I urge the health minister and his government to reconsider their stance on the provincial flu immunization program.”

In every other province where pharmacists can deliver flu shots, all residents or large segments of the population can receive their flu shots for free at physician offices, pharmacies and public health clinic, the pharmacists said.

However, in Newfoundland and Labrador, unless residents hold a public drug program card or have private insurance coverage for flu shots, they must pay a fee at a pharmacy. The problem is further compounded this year by government’s decision to decrease access to flu shots at physician offices, the pharmacists said.

“We are very concerned with the impacts of limited access to flu shots on residents of our province this year, particularly when our population has such high rates of chronic disease and is, therefore, more susceptible to serious side effects and complications from influenza, including death,” said Glenda Power, executive director of PANL. “Many people who work shifts, hold nine to five positions, care for others during the day or otherwise have demanding schedules need flexibility in where and when to get immunized. There is no more accessible health care provider than the pharmacists in community pharmacies, many of which are open nights and weekends, throughout every region of our province.”

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI) recommends people six months of age and older get vaccinated against the flu every year. During the 2016-17 flu season in Newfoundland and Labrador, there were 517 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza, 202 hospitalizations, 29 ICU admissions and 13 deaths reported, according to the pharmacists said.

 In Canada, influenza causes 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths annually, they said.




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