No flu shot appointments available at Toronto Public Health clinics until mid-November
TORONTO -- Health Minister Christine Elliott is insisting that there is no flu shot shortage in Ontario, even as some doctors say that they care concerned about keeping up with the increased demand expected this year.
CTV News Toronto spoke with several doctors on Thursday who said that they were worried about getting their hands on enough doses of the flu shot to vaccinate all of their clients who have expressed an interest in it.
Dr. Alexander Serbanescu, who practices in downtown Toronto, said that he received his first shipment on Monday consisting of 200 doses of the regular flu shot and 100 of the higher dose flu shot for seniors but expects that he will run out by early next week with his next shipment not scheduled to arrive until mid-November.
“We only have a total of 300 doses and if we have 150 people contacting us daily to try have a dose it’s impossible to have enough,” he said.
The province has ordered approximately 5.1 million flu vaccine doses this year compared to the 4.4 million doses it ordered last year.
According to Premier Doug Ford’s office, more than 3.9 million doses have already been distributed to doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacies and public health agencies with more expected to be delivered in the coming days and weeks.
Over the last 24 hours alone, nearly 60,000 additional doses have been delivered.
“The shipments come in on set schedules from global manufacturers so there may be temporary shortages in some physician and nurse practitioner offices as well as in some of our pharmacies but it is only a temporary shortage,” Elliott told reporters at Queen’s Park earlier in the day. “There are shipments coming in on a regular basis and there are no delays with shipments at all.”
Many flu clinics already booked up
Toronto Public Health began accepting online bookings for its flu shot clinics on Tuesday but as of 9 a.m. this morning the first 11 clinics had already been fully booked, meaning that the earliest that anyone can get an appointment at a Toronto Public Health clinic is now Nov. 12.
City officials, however, have pointed out that residents can still get a flu shot at their doctor’s office or a participating pharmacy.
Toronto Public Health will also continue to offer flu shot clinics into December this year, with most of the later clinics still listing hundreds of available appointment times.
Last year, more than 7,000 people received their flu vaccine at Toronto Public Health clinics.
“My understanding from the province is that they have confidence in the supply of flu vaccine but demand this year means getting your flu shot may require a little extra planning and a little extra patience,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said during a briefing on Wednesday afternoon. “A big part of outsmarting COVID-19 will be by getting a flu shot.”
Toronto Public Health has increased the number of flu shot clinics it is holding this year due to an expected increase in demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it has also had to move to an appointment-only system due to the need to ensure physical distancing, meaning that they may not be able to accommodate as many people at each clinic as in past years.
Prior to receiving her vaccine at a flu shot clinic at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Thursday, de Villa pointed out that there are 500 local pharmacies providing flu shots this year in addition to healthcare practitioners.
She said that Toronto Public Health will also be operating its clinics at four separate locations to ensure that everyone has the chance to get vaccinated.
“You often hear the phrase let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. I only need you to roll up one sleeve but I hope you will and give the flu a hard time this year rather than having the flu give you one,” she said. “Because of COVID-19 this often feels like a world over which we don’t have a lot of control. Getting the flu shot is something you can do that allows you to be in control. Like the coronavirus, the flu virus seeks the opportunity to spread but it needs us to do it so let’s not make that easy.”
Last year there were 5,719 influenza-related hospitalizations in Ontario and officials have said that they are hoping to reduce that number this year in order to preserve capacity in the health-care system for COVID-19 patients.
In Ontario, the flu shot is free for anyone six months of age or older and there is no requirement to produce a health card to receive the vaccine.
“I really think most people, in fact everyone should get the flu shot. There is actually very few reasons to not get the flu shot,” infectious disease expert Dr. Issac Bogoch told CP24 on Thursday. “We know that the flu is out there, we know that it is a bad infection, we know that it is preventable, we know that if you get it you are at risk of spreading it to others and we know that at the community level influenza can add additional pressure to a healthcare system that is already under significant pressure because of COVID-19.”