COVID-19 has created challenges in making flu shots readily available to the public. (File photo)

Flu shots: COVID-19 creates challenges for Salmon Arm pharmacies

COVID-19 protocols, staffing issues limiting number of vaccinations being done

Salmon Arm residents still in need of a flu shot, and not already scheduled to receive one, may be in for a bit of a wait.

As of Oct. 26, all doses of this year’s influenza vaccine on hand at three of the five Salmon Arm locations offering flu shots were reserved for future appointments.

Staff at two of the locations, the Salmon Arm Health Unit and the pharmacy at Save-On-Foods, said they had doses for bookings up until Dec. 3. After that, they did not know if and when they would receive more of the vaccine.

“Right now we’re scheduling clinic days up to Dec. 3; that’s the last day because we’ve run out of flu shots,” said Save-On-Foods pharmacy manager Wilson Kwok. “That kind of sucks because people want to get it done now so they’re ready for the flu season.”

On Saturday, Oct. 31, a fourth location, Shoppers Drug Mart, had shots available, but did not have adequate staffing, and asked those requesting the shot to return the following Friday.

A spokesperson for Interior Health explained the health authority was allocated approximately 320,000 doses of the vaccine for the region – at least 30 per cent more than usual – and that redeployment would “occur as able if any community across IH is in short supply.”

Part of the frustration felt by Kwok and others, however, has to do with the process, and challenges, of getting available vaccine doses to the public safely and in a timely fashion during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uptown Askew’s pharmacy manager Darlene Ogilvie said the pharmacy was initially uncertain if it could even offer flu shots this year because of the physical space available in the store, as well as available staffing.

“None of us were ever designed for a pandemic…,” said Ogilvie. “We had to all kind of come up with our own plans…”

Despite increasing reliance upon local pharmacies to administer the annual flu shot, Ogilvie explained provision of the service this year has been challenging, with more screening, more cleaning and other precautions, all of which take more time and more money.

Read more: Delayed flu vaccine, change in scheduled clinics, puts pressure on Salmon Arm pharmacies

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

“It’s been a struggle…,” said Ogilvie. “Basically we have to have staffing, we have to have a space to do it, we have to be able to provide a space for people to wait 15 minutes after their vaccine, there’s all these things that have to happen and sometimes that’s difficult to do.

“And then there seems to have been higher demand. I don’t know if there is but it just seems that way because we get a lot of phone calls.”

Though sorry they cannot accept walk-ins this year, Kwok said the current online screening and appointment booking process available through Save-On-Foods’ website has helped to keep things running smoothly. But because of COVID-19-related health and safety requirements involved, the time it takes to administer the shots has been stretched out.

“In a normal winter flu season, we usually get a chunk of the people done by the second or third week of November,” explained Kwok. “Basically most people are done then; the rest would just walk in whenever they want and do it until January or February…”

Though the province increased compensation to pharmacies this year from $10 to $12.10, Kwok explained it’s not really a money maker.

“It’s a service that we do for the community and it’s important for them. Especially in Salmon Arm, where a high percentage of the population is senior people,” said Kwok.

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