When Liz Allchin was told she needed a special seniors flu shot she was baffled.
“It was the first I had heard of this,” said the 73-year-old St. Albert resident.
But even more baffling was the fact that she had to travel to four pharmacies in the city before she found one that had the specialized vaccine, FluAd, in stock.
This year Alberta Health made changes to the recommended flu vaccine for seniors over the age of 65. The changes are meant to better protect this demographic from the sometimes-deadly virus, but pharmacies in St. Albert were already experiencing a shortage of the product less than a week into immunization.
Many have reported difficulties in re-ordering FluAd, expressing frustration over the lack of stock considering the initial order limit of 30 doses.
Carolyn Ziegler, assistant director of media relations, said it is customary for Alberta Health not to receive its entire vaccine supply at once.
“We distribute the supply to immunizers across the province, including pharmacies, as it comes in,” reads an emailed statement.
FluAd is a three-component inactivated flu vaccine that protects against two strains of influenza A and only one strain of influenza B.
What is special about the vaccine, which has been licensed in Canada since 2011, is that it contains an adjuvant – an ingredient that helps create a stronger immune response to vaccination.
“People 65 and older, their immune systems sometimes aren’t as strong, so it helps stimulate that,” explained Karen Moak, owner of Midtown Apothecary in downtown St. Albert.
While Alberta Health has identified FluAd as the vaccine of choice for individuals 65 and older this season, a regular flu shot can also be administered when the product is unavailable.
“Fluzone is also a safe and effective product to use for seniors,” wrote Ziegler. “We prefer to see seniors immunized early with Fluzone rather than have seniors wait for FluAd if it is not immediately available.”
But Allchin says this is unacceptable. She wonders why the government did not order enough FluAd for the first week of immunization, which she expects is dominated by seniors.
“I do the right things,” said the senior, who goes to the pool three times a week and takes drama classes to stay fit. “All I can expect is that the healthcare system does the right thing for me at the right time.”
Seniors aged 65 and older are one of the most at-risk populations when it comes to influenza.
Studies by the Centre for Disease Control in the U.S. estimates that 80 to 90 per cent of seasonal flu-related deaths and 50 to 70 per cent of hospitalizations occur among those aged 65 and older.
The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates admissions to be between 125 and 228 per 100,000 and notes that mortality increases with age.
Alberta is the only province that has adopted FluAd for preferential use outside an institutional setting.
Ontario, Newfoundland and P.E.I. use the adjuvanted vaccine only for individuals 65 and older who live in a long-term care facility. FluAd is also available in B.C. Its distribution is left up to the discretion of regional health authorities.
Pharmacies should receive additional doses of FluAd by next week.