Ontario pediatricians warn of flu shot ‘crisis’ to meet anticipated demand

Ontario pediatricians warn of flu shot ‘crisis’ to meet anticipated demand

TORONTO — A group representing more than 1,400 Ontario pediatricians is warning of “an imminent crisis” in rolling out the flu shot this season.

An online petition by members of the Ontario Medical Association says there’s already “unprecedented strong interest amongst parents for the influenza vaccine.”

At the same time, they say it will be impossible for clinics to meet demand while adhering to pandemic precautions, including the need to sanitize between appointments and ensure social distancing.

They suggest several measures, including that the province set up vaccination centres where public health nurses, community pediatricians and volunteer doctors can inoculate large numbers of people.

Dr. Dan Flanders, one of the physician members of the working group behind the petition, suggests this effort be incorporated into the province’s COVID-19 testing centres, where a separate area could be dedicated to the flu shot.

Flanders says the flu shot is especially crucial for children aged 0 to 2 years old, who are considered a higher-risk group, and children younger than four who cannot get the shot from the pharmacy.

“Toddlers and young school-aged kids, they’re the best spreaders of flu of them all. They’re the super-spreaders,” says Flanders, owner and executive director of Kindercare Pediatrics in Toronto.

“The fact that there’s limited options for the parents of zero to four-year-olds is problematic.”

The president of the Ontario Medical Association says the broader organization is also pressing for a detailed flu season plan, anticipating challenges for patients and doctors attempting to identify illnesses with symptoms very similar to COVID-19.

“Previously, a clinic or a pediatrician or a family doctor could vaccinate hundreds of patients in one day. And it’s going to be very hard to replicate that indoors, taking all the precautions we need to take for COVID as we move forward,” says Dr. Samantha Hill.

Hill says she’s aware the province is developing a flu-shot plan and that details are expected soon. Beyond that, she said “we’re all waiting with baited breath.”

“There’s a lot of different ways that can play out — we’ve heard references to mobile clinics, we’ve heard references to pharmacies, we’ve heard references to using (private) labs like LifeLabs and Dynacare, and those kinds of things,” she says, acknowledging “a very tight timeline.”

The pediatric group says 30 to 35 per cent of the population typically get the flu shot each year, but is urging Canadians to get vaccinated so those numbers increase to “much higher levels” this year.

But they say that can only be done through large-scale, community-based province-wide flu vaccination clinics.

“This is an emergent public health crisis looming before us,” states the Change.org petition, which emerged Saturday seeking 500 supporters and signed by “Pediatrics Section, OMA.”

“Government and public health need to step up and help co-ordinate this effort.”

Flanders says other measures could include provincial funds to help supply and staff primary care clinics to deliver the shot, or that the province increase how much doctors are paid per shot.

“It’s much, much more expensive for us to run our flu clinics because it’s a fee-for-service model. If we’re only able to give half of the number of shots per clinic then it becomes far more cost-ineffective,” says Flanders, estimating the payment per shot is $9 or $10.

“I’m going to be losing money every flu clinic I run. Am I OK with it? No, but I’m still going to do it.”

Canada’s chief public health officer said Friday that “more than usual amounts of flu vaccine have been ordered” in anticipation of increased demand.

But Dr. Theresa Tam also admitted “the public health system is quite tapped out in terms of response to COVID.”

“It’s actually a really good rehearsal for actually putting out the mass immunization programs we may need to do for the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Tam.

“Everyone is looking at this as a good approach so that we can iron out anything else that we need to do from an implementation perspective.”

Flanders notes that very little influenza circulated in the southern hemisphere during its flu season, possibly because of measures to control COVID-19.

He says it’s possible that means Canada will see a milder flu season, too, but that we should plan for a bad flu season, as well as the likelihood that the flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses will circulate at the same time.

“The biggest challenge is that there’s a lot of unknowns, including the virus’s behaviour.”

Hill points to rising COVID-19 case counts that are also increasing strain on health-care services, much of which have been put on hold with serious consequences for many patients.

“We have people — mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, kids — who are waiting for procedures that haven’t been done that need to be done. They’re not elective, they’re just non-emergent. We have people who are at risk because of various lung diseases, we have people who need regular health care and it’s all been cut off so that we can deal with this,” she says.

“We can’t stop now. We have to keep taking care of each other, because what’s the saying? Winter is coming.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version quoted Dr. Flanders referring to a “COVID clinic” when he misspoke and meant to say “flu clinic.”


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

Just Posted

Car thief opening stolen car doors. 
(Black Press File Image)
Idling vehicles attracting thieves, RCMP warns

About one-third of stolen vehicles left idling unattended

Police reveal a collection of drugs, cash and guns seized in an April 2016 bust. One of the men charged was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday.
Advocate file photo
Red Deer man sentenced to 27 months for role in “dial-a-dope” operation

RCMP Priority Crimes Task Force broke up drug operation in April 2016 after four-month investigation

Red Deer RCMP say a 30-year-old man faces sexual charges against a teen. (File photo by Advocate staff)
RCMP’s downtown traffic stops lead to charges

Two traffic stops conducted by Red Deer RCMP officers on bike patrol… Continue reading

Boards for the neighbourhood outdoor rink near Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School are in place for the skating season. Like last year, the city will maintain 77 outdoor rinks throughout Red Deer. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Boards going up at outdoor neighbourhood rinks

City of Red Deer will alert public when rinks are ready to use

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

JJ Collett Natural Area Foundation held its AGM on Oct. 19 at the Ponoka Legion. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
De-listing Alberta parks creates ‘risk’ for coal mining: CPAWS

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society speaks at JJ Collett AGM

Cash and Cars lottery
Sylvan Lake woman wins major prize from Cash and Cars Lottery

Karin Plunkett of Sylvan Lake was a winner in the annual Alberta… Continue reading

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

ACC President and CEO Ken Kobly spoke to Ponoka Chamber of Commerce members over Zoom on Oct. 20. (Image: screenshot)
Alberta chambers are ‘411’ to members, government: ACC president

Changes to government supports, second wave and snap election

world affairs
British brinkmanship leaves little hope of a Brexit trade deal

The British pantomime is a traditional Christmas entertainment in which stock characters… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Red Deer city council will hold a public hearing on Oct. 28 about whether to take the future expansion of Molly Banister Drive off the table. (Photo by MAMTA LULLA/Advocate staff).
Opinion: Molly Banister extension isn’t as important as quality of life

Citizen opposition to the Molly Banister Drive extension has grown since the… Continue reading

Email letters to editor@interior-news.com
I ask myself: ‘What the hell’ has happened to Red Deer?

I moved to Red Deer on Nov. 1, 2001, and I fell… Continue reading

Most Read