Manitoba pharmacists complain of low flu vaccine supply, province says there’s no shortage

For months doctors and health officials have been urging Manitobans to get their flu shot and while the message seems to be working, some pharmacists say they are having trouble getting enough supply.

Pharmacist Carey Lai ordered a combined 2,000 doses of the regular vaccine and the high dose vaccine for his two pharmacies and said he is quickly running out.

“I’m going to be done all my shots by next week,” Lai said. “We’ll be all out. All 2,000 doses will be gone.”

Read more: Manitobans, health officials gearing up for unpredictable flu season

Last year, Manitoba saw a record-high number of people roll up their sleeves to get the flu vaccine, with nearly 26 per cent of the population getting vaccinated.

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The province upped its order this year and said it ordered enough to be able to vaccinate 40 per cent of the population.

However, Lai said they were only allowed to place orders for 10 per cent more than what they ordered the previous year and said even that might not be enough to keep up with the increased demand they are seeing.

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Manitoba prepares for flu season amid COVID-19 – Sep 16, 2020

“There is this huge draw on the supply, increased demand and I don’t think there is enough supply to fulfill all of them,” Lai said.

While he is seeing the same amount of regular patients who come and get their shot every year, there is a high percentage of people coming in that haven’t had a flu shot before, he added.

Read more: Demand for flu shot up 500% at Ontario pharmacies compared to 2019

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“Close to ten to 15 per cent of the individuals that are coming are first-time flu vaccine takers… they have never had the flu vaccine in their life,” Lai said.

“On top of that there’s probably around 20 to 25 per cent… [who] didn’t have regular flu vaccines and some have openly admitted the last time they had a vaccine was when the H1NI scare happened.”

The province told Global News it has distributed about 570,000 flu vaccine doses, which is 20 per cent more than all of last year.

Read more: Saskatchewan pharmacists preparing for ‘pretty crazy’ flu shot season, advise calling ahead

“We have distributed our initial order. Our contract allows us to purchase additional doses, which we have ordered and received and will soon be distributed to providers,” a provincial spokesperson told Global News.

“Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of flu vaccine doses available to Manitobans through their healthcare provider.”

But some pharmacists have questioned the distribution process and said they never received their full order.

“On average we are only receiving 25 to 30 per cent of the vaccine orders we placed in August,” one pharmacist told Global News.

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At one store, they said they ordered 1,000 doses and only received 200.

Read more: Manitoba Health taking new flu vaccine approaches: ‘It is going to feel different’

“If Manitoba Health indeed ordered enough vaccine to vaccinate 40 per cent of the population, why are vaccine orders being cut back?” they asked.

The province said each providers orders are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and they look and the number of doses the provider ordered in the previous year when comparing.

“This year, we anticipated an increased demand, and providers could order more vaccine than they did in years previous, though there was no universal maximum percentage increase, but rather orders were determined on a case-by-case basis,” the spokesperson said.

The province said it has distributed its first order and is working on procuring more.

“Our contract allows us to purchase additional doses, which we have ordered and received and will soon be distributed to providers,” a spokesperson said. “Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of flu vaccine doses available to Manitobans through their health-care provider.”

Despite what pharmacists are seeing around Winnipeg, the province said “we are not seeing a flu vaccine shortage.”

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