Manitoba pharmacists lowest compensated in country for giving flu vaccines

Provincial compensation for Manitoba pharmacists giving the flu shot is the lowest in the country, despite the extra personal protective equipment (PPE) required, rising case counts and the province’s chief medical officer stressing the importance of everyone getting a shot this flu season.

A Manitoba pharmacist administering a flu shot gets $7 from the government — but in neighbouring Saskatchewan, a pharmacist delivering the exact same shot gets nearly double the amount at $13.

It is a gap that pharmacists and the lobby that represents them is calling on the Pallister government to fix.

“Nothing, like I said, nothing at all,” said Mohamed Ali, a pharmacist and owner of Pembina Drugs pharmacy, when asked what kind of extra assistance his profession is getting from the government.

“But because of COVID-19, there is extra precaution. You have to do sanitization. You have to invest in PPE.”

A cross-jurisdictional scan of the entire country by the Ontario Pharmacists Association shows that Manitoba and Ontario are the only two provinces in the country where a pharmacist gets less than $10 for every flu shot administered.

Manitoba pharmacists get the lowest amount of compensation in the country for administering the flu shot. (Ontario Pharmacists Association)

And Manitoba is only one of three provinces in the country (along with British Columbia and Saskatchewan) where the government doesn’t cover the cost of personal protective equipment, according to the Canadian Healthcare Network.

The network is an online information source only accessible to physicians, pharmacists, nurses or healthcare managers.

In provinces like Alberta and Quebec, pharmacists’ flu shot fees were increased this fiscal year in order to compensate them for much needed PPE.

Meanwhile, on the east coast in Ontario Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, PEI and Nova Scotia, pharmacists have the same access to government supply of PPE at no extra costs.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brent Roussin has consistently told Manitobans to get the flu shot this year, a point echoed by Premier Brian Pallister. 

“This year’s been like no other. It has never been more important for Manitobans to get the flu shot,” Pallister said in October. 

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Ali said with that extra emphasis — as well as the added risk for pharmacists as the province’s case count grows more and more each day — they should be getting better support from the government.

Ali said his pharmacy has already given about 1,000 flu shots already, nearly double the 600 he gave last year.

But each flu shot takes upward of 15 minutes, not to mention the time spent disinfecting afterwards, plus the time it takes to ensure the pharmacist dons all the proper personal protective equipment.

“Besides, immunizations is only one piece of what we do. We do have daily dispensing duties,” he said.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said he appreciates the work pharmacist do, but did not commit to changing the compensation they receive or supplying them with PPE. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Ali sees giving the flu shot as a necessary service to the community, but says it involves a lot of extra steps a pharmacist might not want to take. They could make just as much filling a standard prescription without the added anxiety and safety concerns that come with serving so many people. 

We did a couple of Saturday screenings and saw anywhere between 150 and 200. So can you imagine having the traffic of about 150, 200 coming in and out?” he said.

Anecdotally, he said many of his customers came from all over the city saying their neighbourhood pharmacy wasn’t administering the shot.

According to Manitoba Health, about 60 per cent of pharmacies this year are giving the flu shot this year.

Lobby group hoping for changes in coming weeks

Pharmacists Manitoba is the advocacy organization for the profession and its president said in a prepared statement that their compensation is falling behind the rest of the country.

The $7 “does not cover the added costs of immunization administration, PPE or the disinfection/cleaning regime that is now required between patients,” said Pharmacists Manitoba’s President Pawandeep Sidhu.

“It is also true that the reimbursement received by pharmacists in Manitoba is significantly lower than elsewhere in the country.”

Sidhu said his group is hopeful for a solution will come from the government in the “weeks ahead.”

In a written statement, Health Minister Cameron Friesen did not acknowledge why pharmacists do not get PPE or compensation equal to those in other provinces.

He noted that vaccinations are up 43 per cent from this time last year, and a “significant portion” of those were administered by pharmacists.

“We appreciate the work pharmacists do every year as part of the province’s annual flu vaccination campaign,” he said. 

“We continue to engage with Pharmacists Manitoba on a range of issues related to the pandemic, and more broadly related to maximizing the services that pharmacists can provide in our communities.”

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