More Quebecers will be eligible for free flu shots this year: here's when and where to get one

Flu shot (CTV News)

A significantly higher number of people who weren’t officially covered by last year’s free influenza vaccine program in Quebec will now be eligible to get the flu shot this season, according to the provincial health ministry website.

This year, healthy adults aged 60 to 74 and healthy children aged 6-23 months will be eligible, the website claims.

For at least a year, those particular groups of people could obtain the vaccine upon request but were no longer formally covered under the public program. 

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Now, the ministry’s website states even though “the risk of flu-related hospitalization and death is low for healthy children aged six to 23 months and healthy people aged 60 to 74, these people can get vaccinated against the flu free of charge this year if they want to.”

We asked the health ministry to explain why the new groups are now listed along with the other at-risk groups, and if it’s related to the pandemic, but have not yet heard back.

Quebec’s public flu vaccine campaign officially begins Nov. 1. 

To make sure people can all get the flu shot safely amidst the second wave of COVID-19, everyone who lives in the Montreal region and Laval will be able to get their flu shot by appointment only this year, CTV News has learned.

Crowded recreation centres and drop-in clinics are now relics of the not-so-distant past because they don’t allow for distancing measures and place vulnerable populations at risk.

Pediatricians and family doctors who have a vaccination permit are permitted to order the flu vaccine and administer it at their offices to at-risk and very young, healthy patients, says West Island pediatrician Dr. Mitchell Schiller. 

“If a parent wants their child aged six months to two years of age to get the vaccine, it may be administered. So, not just children with chronic problems,” he said. 

Shiller doesn’t know if other doctors’ groups will go the same route, but even though they are not allowed to charge a fee for the service to help cover costs, the pediatricians at his clinic decided “they just have to help out.” 

The government’s flu vaccine program covers:

  •  Children six months to 17 years who have certain chronic diseases
  •  Adults who have certain chronic diseases (including pregnant women regardless the stage of pregnancy)
  •  Pregnant women, in the second and third trimesters of their pregnancy
  •  Family members who live in the same household as a child under six months, or a person at higher risk of being hospitalized, and their caregivers
  •  Health-care workers
  •  People aged 60 and over
  •  Healthy children six to 23 months old

Each regional health board (CIUSSS) is responsible for setting up a flu vaccine program that meets the territory's needs. A couple of months ago, the province’s health ministry offered up several suggestions to help them COVID-proof their plans. Among them was the possibility of holding drive-thru clinics. 

But what’s not being debated among Montreal's public health experts, says the director of public health activities at the CIUSSS-East Montreal, is that with COVID-19 taxing our health care system it’s more important than ever this season to reduce the chances of catching the flu.

“It’s such a simple thing to do to get vaccination against the flu and it can help to protect so many people. I think everyone who fits the conditions should be getting the vaccine,” said Julie Provencher adding she thinks it’s essential.

We contacted each of the five CIUSSS in the Montreal region as well as the Laval CIUSSS, and here’s the information they each provided about how their public flu vaccine programs will operate:

CIUSSS –West-Central Montreal 

  •  flu vaccine available by appointment only in November at its five CLSCs to ensure proper distancing
  •  Appointments can be made online using the Clic Sante platform starting in mid-October, or by telephone (telephone number TBD) for people without Internet access
  •  appointments will be available until 8 p.m. at some sites
  •  they will conduct outreach for more at-risk clientele, for example, seniors who receive home care, people with mental health problems
  •  the vaccination page will be updated by the end of September

CIUSSS – North-Central Montreal

  •  by-appointment-only to respect distancing and hygiene measures
  •  three fixed vaccination sites across the territory
  •  communication campaign to come

CIUSSS – East Montreal

  •  by appointment only, online through Clic Sante, or by telephone
  •  outreach to vulnerable populations, including people who are homeless, live in social housing and seniors residence
  •  they are working on a communication plan and are assembling the staff required to meet the demand

CIUSSS – South-Central Montreal

  •  by appointment only, through Clic Sante and by telephone
  •  will also vaccinate any at-risk people when they go for regular medical appointments and follow-ups at hospitals and clinics
  •  will conduct outreach: people receiving home care, the homeless, those living in seniors' residences and social housing

CIUSSS – West-Island Montreal

  •  by appointment only through the online Clic Sante portal or by telephone to limit waiting times and allow them to respect distancing measures

CISSS – Laval

  •  clinics will be adapted to public health measures to ensure distancing can be respected at all times from arrival through the post-vaccine waiting period and to prevent crowding
  •  appointment scheduling will take into account the time needed for disinfection
  •  there will be outreach to vulnerable populations, for example, in seniors residences, external cancer clinics, and admitted patients at Cite-de-la-Sante Hospital and the Jewish Rehabilitation Hospital

At Friday's COVID-19 press briefing, Quebec's director of public health said this year the province ordered 35 per cent more doses of influenza vaccine than last year to meet any increased demand.

People will also be able to pay and receive a flu shot at many Quebec pharmacies offering the service if they don't meet the province's public program criteria.

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