East Vancouver woman warns of COVID-19, flu vaccine appointment shortage

About a month after the provincial government rolled out its flu and COVID-19 vaccine campaign, one East Vancouver woman says she’s having a heck of a time getting an appointment for her family.

Sheila Louis explains that her young daughter got her invite in mid-October and this past weekend, she and her husband got theirs, and are trying now to get immunized as a family.

“There was nothing available. I kept clicking the calendar and I looked all the way through to the end of May and there was no availability. So, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll try to book for just one of us.’ I changed the criteria, and there was still nothing available, but then I thought, ‘How about just COVID or about just the flu?’ And I kept changing the criteria and there was nothing,” she told CityNews.

Louis says she called Immunize BC and after 45 minutes was able to find some availability, but for separate appointments.

“It’s quite a system we’re going through right now, trying to actually find a person and get something booked in, in a timely manner and in a reasonable place as well,” added Louis.

She thinks bringing back community vaccination centres would help.

Louis says part of the frustration is pharmacists can’t give shots to kids under 12 — those have to be administered at a doctor’s office — and it may be difficult for some people to get an appointment and even more challenging for those who don’t have a family doctor.

“I tried my doctor’s office and they said, ‘Well, we’re quite low on flu shots already. We can book you guys in, but we can’t do COVID.'”

She says because there are different rules around children, it’s forcing her to take her child out of school to have her roll up her sleeve.

“The clinic hours for the children’s clinics are during school hours. It’s almost as if they’re trying to make it so difficult that we don’t bother and it’s a little disappointing. We have family who are elderly. We may know some immune-compromised people. We just don’t want to get sick, more than anything.”

Louis says this issue isn’t unique to Metro Vancouver.

“The actual system itself is not working,” she said.

“My parents are in Interior Health, they’re in their 70s, and when they tried to phone in and book, they had a three-week wait and that just seems like a really long time for someone in their 70s to be waiting for vaccines.”

Louis is highly critical of the government’s handling of the vaccine booking system, given vaccines have been rolled out consistently for the past couple of years.

“It’s a little surprising that it’s 2023 and we’re still going through all of this. It’s just going to lead to more people getting sick and more people dying because we can’t get in, in a timely manner.”

Chris Chiew, president of the BC Pharmacy Association, has heard of some pockets with limited supply of vaccines, but he says overall, things are going well. He suggests that if you can’t find an appointment online, call your local pharmacy because they may have supply, space, and many province-wide are accepting walk-ins.

“We are still seeing demand out there in pharmacies. We are still seeing people wanting their vaccine, which is great news to ensure the public is protected.”

In a statement to CityNews, the Ministry of Health does admit there is limited supply in some areas but didn’t say where.

“Several factors may contribute to the interim limited appointment availability in some regions. Pharmacies and health authority clinics that have appointments scheduled through November are already fully booked based on available supply received,” it said.

“Some pharmacies have not yet made their November appointments available. Pharmacies will continue to post appointments as they receive additional vaccine, but they are being careful to not overbook and are taking a cautious approach.”

The ministry is encouraging anyone who wants an appointment to keep checking for new openings and to consider getting a shot in a neighbouring city. New appointments are added every day, it adds.

“Everyone who wants a vaccination will be able to get one, but we do ask for everyone’s patience due to the high demand,” the statement said. “As of Oct. 31, B.C. has administered 587,293 doses of COVID-19 vaccines and 805,149 doses of influenza vaccines in the 2023 fall vaccination campaign,” adding when doses do arrive, it can take up to 10 days to distribute.

B.C. has ordered 2.8 million COVID-19 vaccines and 2.3 million influenza vaccines for the 2023-24 respiratory season.

You can book an appointment through Immunize BC by calling 1-833-838-2323.

-With files from Martin MacMahon

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