Pharmacist Sean Simpson poses outside of his pharmacy in Virgil, Ont., Monday, October 5, 2020. Simpson’s pharmacy will be offering a drive through flu clinic this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

Pharmacist Sean Simpson poses outside of his pharmacy in Virgil, Ont., Monday, October 5, 2020. Simpson’s pharmacy will be offering a drive through flu clinic this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

Doctors, pharmacies explore drive-thrus, outdoor clinics to meet flu shot demand

Many start their flu shot programs in October or early November

Anticipating increased demand for the flu shot this season, pharmacist Sean Simpson has invested in a few unorthodox supplies that go well beyond extra face masks: street signage, traffic cones, a pop-up tent and hard hats.

He’ll need them for the drive-through vaccination clinic he’s setting up in the parking lot of his Virgil, Ont., Pharmasave, a scheme he hopes will address COVID-19 fears while offering customers a quick way to get their shot.

“We’ve worked it out in our heads a number of times and we seem to think it’ll work,” says Simpson, who was still waiting Tuesday for his vaccine shipment to arrive.

“We’ll have a setup where we’re able to vaccinate people in the car and monitor them for the recommended period of time and let them go on their way so that we can reduce the interaction with others.”

While residents in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick have been among the first in Canada to receive doses in recent weeks, pharmacies and doctor’s clinics in much of the rest of the country are still waiting and preparing to deliver their shots. Many start their programs in October or early November.

Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Ann Collins says varied start times depend on when the vaccine supply is delivered to the province, when it is dispersed to depots, when it’s picked up by the provider, and ultimately when providers have their provision plan in place.

This season, the Fredericton-based physician says pharmacists and doctors are eager to try novel ways to offer large-scale flu clinics that can maintain pandemic safety precautions, noting her own family physician hosted a flu clinic in a parking lot last weekend.

At Simpson’s Pharmacy in Virgil, drive-thru visits will be by appointment only, with waivers and related paperwork to be filled out online.

Simpson expects the outdoor clinic will limit face-to-face interaction between strangers, avoid any need for a waiting room and reduce crowding in the actual store.

Ottawa family physician Dr. Aly Abdulla says COVID-19 precautions rule out traditional mass-vaccination tactics, such as renting out the nearby legion.

At the same time, getting the shot to as many people as possible is more crucial than ever to avoid a feared “twindemic,” in which simultaneous flu and COVID outbreaks overwhelm the health-care system.

Abdulla expects to offer the flu shot when patients come in for routine appointments. But he’s also in talks with local public health about a joint effort that might see several doctors share the cost of renting a large space for a flu clinic, which would also allow them to pool their doses if needed.

“Our plan is to have public health screening areas — maybe arenas, maybe clinics that are not using their space on evenings and weekends — to have these flu clinics,” says Abdulla, adding he’s also heard of doctors in Guelph, Ont., and Georgian Bay considering drive-thru clinics.

“(They) will essentially be ad hoc in the community, based on what the needs are.”

This year, the Public Health Agency of Canada says more than 13 million doses have been ordered, a jump from last season’s 11.2 million doses. Ten per cent of that is the high-dose influenza vaccine — itself a 25 per cent increase from last season as public health focuses on inoculating more adults 65 years and older, who account for most hospitalizations and deaths from flu and COVID-19.

Shoppers Drug Mart says its stores in Prince Edward Island began delivering the flu shot Sept. 28, while those in New Brunswick began Oct. 5.

The chain, including its Loblaw pharmacies, continues a staggered rollout in Ontario on Wednesday; Manitoba and Nova Scotia next week; British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan on Oct. 19; the Yukon on Oct. 26 and in Quebec’s Pharmaprix outlets on Nov. 1.

A spokeswoman says availability in Newfoundland and Labrador was still to be determined, and that customers should contact their local pharmacy to confirm details.

Theresa Firestone, senior vice-president of health and wellness, touted a contactless digital consent form that includes screening for COVID-19 symptoms, drop-in appointments and dedicated senior’s clinics — when stores will be opened exclusively for older shoppers — with meeting increased demand.

“Physician offices often close at the end of the workday. We have many stores open until midnight … and we have a number of stores that are 24-hours,” added Firestone.

Victor Wong, an associate owner and pharmacist at a Shoppers Drug Mart in east-end Toronto, says requests for the flu shot “have been off the charts,” with some customers asking about its arrival since the summer.

He expects demand will be high at his store after hearing some doctors are skipping the season entirely.

“We have local doctors, even within our close proximity, who have already phoned us to let us know that they will not be opening up their clinics this year for flu shots or will be diverting their flu shot patients to our store,” says Wong, whose store delivered more than 600 flu shots last year.

Dr. Samantha Hill, president of the Ontario Medical Association, says many community physicians have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic and simply cannot afford to host a vaccination clinic this year.

She points to the added costs of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and sometimes staff, to sanitize exam rooms — all while the provincial fee schedule has not kept pace with increased overhead.

“They’re really in trouble. They carried the health-care system on their backs for the last few months,” says Hill.

Still, Hill says physicians are determined to serve their patients and find creative ways to address demand.

READ MORE: Flu vaccine orders up in Canada as simultaneous COVID and flu infections feared

In Ontario, the OMA says 55 per cent of flu shots are delivered by physicians, 40 per cent by pharmacies, and 5 per cent by corporate employers who provide them to their workforce. Data was insufficient on the remaining 5 per cent.

Simpson expects to be allotted nearly 1,000 doses this season for his two stores, including another Pharmasave — Simpson’s Apothecary in nearby Niagara-On-the-Lake, Ont. — with the first batch of 400 doses arriving this week.

But it likely won’t be enough.

“Based on the volume of calls we received to date, we’re pretty confident we’re going to go through our first allotment very quickly,” says Simpson, noting last year’s stock ran out in December.

“I fully expect there will be times when when we will run out.”

Many of Canada’s doctors feel the same way, with a recent survey by the Canadian Medical Association finding half of 598 respondents expected they won’t have enough doses this season. A broader survey of 1,459 doctors found half had trouble accessing personal protective equipment and many feared they’ll have trouble safeguarding patients and staff while delivering the flu shot.

Hill worried about the long-term effects of relying on pharmacies and private business to address patient care while the public system buckles under multiple pressures.

Hill acknowledges “a multipronged approach” in “unprecedented times” as reasonable, but also urged the province to invest further in the public system, with funds and supplies for additional staff, sanitizing and overheard costs.

“If the health-care system as we know it collapses — and that’s a fairly strong word to use but I’m going to use it — because we lose 10 or 20 percent of our outpatient and family clinics, those are patients who don’t have access to health care,” she says.

“And we started this year, before COVID came, with waitlists and emergency hallway medicine and a government who acknowledged that there was a need to fix health-care in Ontario.”

A statement from the health ministry touted nearly $70 million invested in this season’s vaccination program and defended the role pharmacies play in increasing access.

“Increasing the locations where Ontarians can receive a flu shot increases access for patients and spreads out the demand for the product across our health-care providers, particularly as some providers are focusing on virtual care in response to COVID-19,” the government stated in an email.

Ontario’s first shipments of flu vaccines started being delivered in late September to public health units, long-term care homes and hospitals to prioritize vulnerable populations.

The health ministry said broader community distribution “is currently being rolled out and will continue in the coming weeks.”

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusflu seasonvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

The Site C Dam location is seen along the Peace River in Fort St. John, B.C., Tuesday, April 18, 2017. The cost of British Columbia’s Site C hydroelectric dam has grown to $16 billion and the completion has been moved up a year to 2025. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BC Liberal energy critic blasts ‘lack of transparency’ on Site C

MLA Tom Shypitka says Site C going ahead is a ‘good thing’, blames NDP for mismanagement

Volunteers from the Elk River Alliance cleared 14 car batteries from the Elk River near Elkford this week. (Photo contributed)
Elk River Alliance to move to more holistic environmental monitoring

The details of the ERA’s 2021 program will be discussed at the AGM next month

The Kitimat RCMP responded to false alarms, an apartment fire and more between Jan. 29 to Feb. 3, 2021. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Sparwood backs campaign to study Surrey RCMP impact

The City of Surrey is home to the largest RCMP detachment in the province

Brent Bidston is the president of Angel Flight East Kootenay. Black Press file photo.
RDEK ponders funding for Angel Flight East Kootenay

The district is considering funding for operations or to eventually help acquire a larger plane

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Arrow Lakes Caribou Society said the new caribou pen near the Nakusp Hotsprings is close to completion. (Submitted)
Maternity caribou pen near Nakusp inches closer to fruition

While Nakusp recently approved the project’s lease, caribou captures are delayed due to COVID-19

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

Most Read