Busiest flu season yet for pharmacists, despite distribution delays

February 1, 2021 The Tablet

By Angela Poon and Michael Mui

To date, B.C. pharmacists have admin-istered a record-setting number of fl u vaccines during the 2020/21 fl u season, despite ongoing supply chain delays from public health authorities.

At a news conference in late December, Health Minister Adrian Dix said there were at least 1,388,805 doses of influenza vaccine administered across B.C. in the 2020/21 flu season. More than one million of those were administered by pharmacists.

“Consider that last year, in total, the entire infl uenza vaccine eff ort last year, pharmacists administered 724,256 doses. To date this year, and we’re just partway through the campaign, pharmacists have administered 1,001,204 doses,” Dix says.

Since late December, the pace has slowed as the attention of the public and health professionals like phar-macists shift  towards the COVID-19 vaccine. Some small quantities of the flu vaccine may still be available for ordering through the end of the season.

The early season sharp increase in vaccine administrations was not without its challenges, however. Given the strong push from government for all British Columbians to seek out a flu shot to protect themselves and others from sickness amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for vaccines has been at an all-time high. With many pharmacies receiving smaller than anticipated numbers of flu doses, coupled with customers requesting their fl u shot earlier in the season, pharmacies quickly depleted their vaccine supplies with no indication of when their supplies would be replenished. 

When Anthony Chiam, pharmacy manager at Northview Compounding Pharmacy, called the North Shore Vaccine Depot on Oct. 22 to inquire about future vaccine distribution 
for his pharmacy, he was told that Vancouver Coastal Health had cut off flu shot supplies to pharmacies, with no word on when distribution would be re-established.

A Victoria-area Pharmasave, with a history of administering over 1,000 flu vaccines in a regular season, depleted their initial allotment of 400 doses in just three days, says owner Maria Kwari.

The store ended up with a waiting list of more than 1,000 people in late October, with no word on when their next allotment would become available.

“This has put a very large strain on the pharmacy team as we are constantly fielding questions without having a solid answer and we cannot book appointments or plan ahead,” Kwari says.

With similar complaints coming in from member pharmacists from across B.C., the BCPhA presented its concerns to the Ministry of Health, who assured Association staff they were working to rectify the distribution delays with health authorities.

Flu shots by pharmacists

  • 2020/21 - 1,001,204+
  • 2019/20 - 724,256
  • 2018/19 - 707,573
  • 2017/18 - 665,184
  • 2016/17 - 557,533

This article is featured in The Tablet. The Tablet features pharmacy and industry news, profiles on B.C. pharmacists, information on research developments and new products.