Ontario’s health minister says the provincial government is spending nearly $90 million this year to purchase 7.6 million doses of the flu shot, an increase of more than a million doses over last year.
Speaking to reporters at a Toronto pharmacy on Tuesday morning, Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is launching a larger flu shot campaign this season than last, purchasing 1.4 million more doses this year.
She noted that Ontario is prioritizing high-risk groups first but that the flu shot will be available to all Ontarians next month.
“As Ontario’s flu supply is delivered in multiple shipments and the schedule is determined by the federal government and manufacturers, the province’s initial supply of the flu vaccine was used to protect long-term care home residents and hospital patients,” she said.
“This month, flu shots are available for seniors, children between six months and four years old, pregnant women, and other individuals at high risk of flu complications.”
She said 1.8 million doses have been earmarked specifically for seniors.
“In November, we will continue to receive the flu vaccine in multiple shipments so we encourage everyone to be patient and call ahead to ensure the flu shot is available at your doctor’s office or at your neighbourhood pharmacy,” she said.
After launching what the province called the largest flu shot campaign in Ontario’s history last year, widespread flu shot shortages were reported at many pharmacies throughout the province.
It is unclear if the additional doses this year will be enough to keep up with increasing demand for flu shots amid a global pandemic.
“Last year, millions of Ontarians took advantage of the free flu shot and we saw historically low rates of flu across the entire province,” Elliott said.
She added that last year the province had only 25 lab-confirmed cases of the flu, a massive drop compared to previous flu seasons where thousands of cases are confirmed in a single year.
While Elliott attributed that drop to the effectiveness of last year’s flu vaccine, public health restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic very likely played a much more significant role in the decline in flu infections.
Elliott said those who are not yet fully immunized against COVID-19 can get their first or second jab at the same time as their flu shot.
“As we head into the fall and begin gathering indoors more often with family and friends, it is even more important to get your flu shot,” she said, adding that the province must protect its health-care system from overcrowding as it continues to battle COVID-19.
Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned last week that while last year’s flu season was “virtually non-existent” in the country, Canadians should prepare for the possibility of a resurgence due to lower levels of immunity and the easing of public health restrictions.
“This is definitely not the year to have influenza wreak havoc,” Tam said Friday.
-With files from The Canadian Press