Halifax-area pharmacies prepare for busy flu season in midst of pandemic

Pharmacy manager encourages people to call ahead

Nova Pharmacy in Halifax is just one of the 300 local and chain pharmacies across Nova Scotia preparing to distribute the flu vaccine for what pharmacies are expecting to be their busiest year yet.

“The main thing is to call ahead because things are taking longer this year than normal,” Crystal Chaulk, pharmacy manager for Nova Pharmacy, said in an interview. Pharmacies across Nova Scotia started offering the flu shot the week of Oct. 12.

The Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia (PANS) said that this year is more important than any other for people to get the flu shot. With the health-care system already dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a bad flu season could be even worse than normal and result in an overburdened health-care system.

“Although we don’t know the impact of having both viruses at the same time, we do know both put significant strain on individuals, workplaces and our health system,” Curt Chafe, PANS board chair, said in a news release.

Distributing the flu vaccine is nothing new for pharmacies. In an email to The Signal, PANS said last year pharmacies provided 154,000 of the 385,000 shots throughout Nova Scotia, around 40 per cent of the total. The publicly funded vaccine has been available from pharmacies since 2013.

Nova Pharmacy in Halifax has been giving out the flu shot for five years.   Ben Roth

PANS said that getting the flu shot should be considered part of protecting yourself and others from COVID-19, the same as washing hands and staying six feet apart. These are the measures Nova Scotians have become familiar with since March.

The hope is that avoiding flu season in key areas can help avoid outbreaks of both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, a relatively unknown situation due to the novelty of the virus.

PANS said that people who are unsure about getting the flu shot should contact their local pharmacy for more information on how they are handling health guidelines. While Nova Pharmacy is taking walk-ins for the flu shot, this may not be the case with others where appointments are needed.

Even with flu vaccine distribution being handled by both pharmacies and doctor’s offices, new cleaning procedures and social distancing rules mean that things may still take longer than in previous years.

Getting your shot

So what can people expect when getting a flu shot at their local pharmacy? Chaulk elaborated on the cleaning procedures at her pharmacy, explaining that everything has to be wiped down with rubbing alcohol, and both gloves and goggles are available to people upon request.

This year, enhanced safety measures like gloves, goggles and temperature checks are in place to protect both health-care workers and the public from the spread of COVID-19.   Ben Roth

Those getting the flu shot at Nova Pharmacy and other pharmacies can also expect to wear a mask for the duration of their flu shot as with any indoor location, as well as being screened for COVID-19 and having their temperature checked.

“The main thing is just going to be scheduling and timing,” Chaulk said. “We have a limited amount of space, you have to wait 15 minutes after. Here at this location I have this room that I inject in and I have one chair in the waiting room.”

Lack of space is a concern due to the social distancing required, and local pharmacies that share space with convenience stores don’t have as much room to work with as larger doctor’s offices. Those offices aren’t taking as many patients as they were before the pandemic, however, and this means that the pharmacies pick up the slack.

Both Chaulk and PANS asked for patience from people waiting to get their flu shot. Chaulk also said that those who especially should get their vaccine are those in long-term care homes and students living in residence.

Ben Roth

Ben Roth

Ben Roth is a reporter based in Halifax with interests in local breaking news, world news, and investigative features. He has a keen love for adventure and is always looking for the next story.

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