Public health officials are urging people to get the seasonal influenza shot this fall to reduce their risk of infection and to prevent overloading the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, residents of the area served by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) will have to make arrangements if they plan to get a flu shot during the months ahead.
In past years, getting a flu shot often meant lining up at one of the health unit’s immunization clinics, often held in community centres or church halls. According to EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, the health unit has reduced the number of those clinics during the past three to four years as medical clinics and pharmacies have began to offer the vaccine. This season, the EOHU will not be holding any flu shot clinics. The COVID-19 pandemic also would have made it difficult to organize such an event because of the number of people and contact involved.
Individuals wanting a flu shot will have to make an appointment at any of the EOHU’s six offices across Prescott and Russell or Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry counties. They can also make an appointment with their doctor, or at any pharmacy that is offering flu shots.
This season’s flu vaccine will be delivered to the health unit, medical clinics, and pharmacies during the next couple of weeks. Local pharmacists are preparing to offer flu shots at their drugstores as soon as the vaccine and instructions from the health unit become available.
George Gabra, pharmacist, and owner of Vankleek Hill Pharmacy said it will likely be mid October when flu shots are offered by appointment at his drugstore. He said that a higher potency vaccine will also be made available to pharmacies this year.
Hawkesbury Medical Pharmacy pharmacist Maged Mousa said no exact date to begin offering flu shots there has been established yet, but they will be available by appointment once the vaccine has been delivered.
A pharmacy technician at the Jean Coutu drugstore in downtown Hawkesbury said that they are taking names for a flu shot waiting list of people who want to be vaccinated once it becomes available.
No COVID-19 testing at local pharmacies yet
On September 23, 43 selected pharmacies across Ontario began offering COVID-19 testing. The provincial government decided to permit pharmacy testing to meet the high demand which has resulted in long lines at regular testing facilities across Ontario. However, no local pharmacies are offering COVID-19 testing currently. Roumeliotis said that the Ontario Health agency has assured him that testing will eventually be available at local drugstores.
Most of the pharmacies offering COVID-19 testing are Shoppers Drug Mart, Medicine Shoppe, and Rexall locations. The nearest one offering testing to Prescott and Russell counties is a Shoppers Drug Mart in Orleans. It is one of 13 pharmacies offering testing in the Ottawa area. Roumeliotis said that pharmacies in Ottawa and the Toronto area were the first to offer testing because of the higher need for the service in those places.
A full list of pharmacies offering COVID-19 testing in Ontario is available at: https://news.ontario.ca/en/backgrounder/58491/ontario-expands-covid-19-testing-to-pharmacies-1