The University of British Columbia had to cut its free annual flu clinic short for the first time this year because of a shortage of vaccines.
Instead of the 4,500 doses ordered, the university only received 1,500 doses. They were gone within hours of the first clinic.
The shortage is related to a nationwide delay in vaccinations and has left the university directing students, faculty and staff to find other places to get a flu shot.
Without the extra clinics, students will have to seek protection from this year’s virus off-campus. This will also mean non-resident students will have to pay up to $27 to get the flu shot, unless they are at high risk of serious illness from the flu.
WHO needed more time to monitor circulating viruses
The timing of the delivery of the flu vaccine and the quality of vaccine available can vary year to year for a number of reasons, according to Heather Amos, a communications officer with the BC Centre for Disease Control.
“This year, the World Health Organization required additional time to monitor circulating viruses to determine the best virus component to recommend to vaccine manufacturers to include in this year’s vaccine, resulting in other delays,” Amos said.
As a result of the delay, the university is unable to reschedule the clinics as the flu immunization program utilizes students from the School of Nursing and faculties of medicine and pharmaceutical sciences, said Bruce Anderson, occupational and research health and safety director at UBC.
“We were using students to do the immunizations and it is difficult to reschedule their time to be able to administer the vaccine,” said Anderson.
Non-resident students get stuck with added flu-vaccine fees
Students who are not residents of B.C. or do not qualify for the free shot will have to pay anywhere from $20 to $27 for one dose of the vaccine if they choose to go to regular pharmacies.
The closest pharmacy on campus, Shopper’s Drug Mart, charges $22.37 for a non-resident to receive the flu shot.
The UBC Hospital’s Student Health Services does not charge non-resident students for the vaccine, but there is a fee of $24.50 for the appointment.
Colter Long, 33, a UBC graduate student from Alberta, received his flu shot from a London Drugs location off-campus. Long said he did not have to pay for his vaccine due to a pre-existing condition that made him eligible for a free shot.
Long said he sympathizes with students who missed out on getting a vaccine at the university clinic, especially international students who are new to the university.
“I think there are a lot of students coming here, especially internationals, where it’s hard enough to make the adjustment of moving to a new country, being a new student, plus encountering something like the flu,” said Long.
British Columbia’s flu season typically runs from mid-November to April each year but it’s already showing up sporadically across the province, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
UBC has been offering annual free vaccination clinics on campus since 2008. Last year, the program provided vaccines to more than 3,400 students, staff and faculty.
The B.C. Ministry of Health had spent $9.9 million on 1.52 million doses of flu vaccine for the 2019/2020 influenza season as of Nov. 9.
This represents 100 per cent of the planned publicly funded doses for purchase and the total bill may increase if seasonal demand increases, according to Meribeth Burton, a spokesperson for the ministry.
Canada ordered 11.2 million doses of vaccine for public vaccination programs. A spokesperson for Health Canada said more doses are expected to arrive by mid-December.