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'Why is a flu shot $40?': Not everyone in Quebec can get the flu shot for free

'Why is a flu shot $40?': Not everyone in Quebec can get the flu shot for free

Some people in Quebec are learning the hard way that not all demographics are entitled to a free flu shot.

According to a Health Canada tool that charts the latest provincial/territorial immunization programs information, Quebec is the only province in the country that charges for flu shots for certain demographics.

Those eligible for a free flu shot in Quebec include:

  • People 75 years and older

  • Those who are pregnant in their second and third trimester

  • People between six months and 74 years who have certain chronic illnesses

  • Family members who live with children under six months

  • A person who is at higher risk of hospitalization, caregivers and healthcare workers

  • Healthy children aged six to 23 months

  • Healthy adults aged 60 to 74

Those outside the specific demographics can still receive a flu shot from a private clinic or pharmacy, but the cost may vary.

The reasoning behind this is outlined in a report by the Committee on Immunization of Quebec and the Quebec Influenza Immunization Program. It states that the primary objective is to reduce influenza-associated hospitalizations and deaths by maintaining a vaccination strategy that targets people at high risk of hospitalization and death. It prioritizes vaccination of at least 80% in these groups.

“It is recommended to remove from the list of groups at high risk of hospitalization and death associated with influenza in children aged 6-23 months and adults aged 60-74 in good health, but to maintain the rest of the groups currently included in the (Quebec Influenza Immunization Program),” the report reads.

Dr. Matthew Oughton is an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. He says the barrier of charging some people for the flu shot leads to reduced uptake, which could ultimately have an impact on hospitals.

Now that we’re heading into an increased flu surge, you’d think that along with everything else we’ve invested in public health measures in trying to shore up an increasingly challenged health care system, you’d think this is a reasonably small investment to make. At the present time, Quebec’s taken a different direction.

Oughton says there are different approaches to distributing the vaccine across the population that are ultimately more cost effective, and points to a study on the economic benefits of Ontario’s universal vaccination program. However, it’s important to consider that some years the flu vaccine isn’t as effective as others.

Oughton says that Quebec is looking at the situation from only one perspective, when they should start looking at it in multiple ways.

“If I held the reins of power, I would say let’s get this started right away,” he says. “There are lots of indicators that we’re heading into a bad influenza season and you need roughly two weeks to have maximal effect after you get the shot, so there’s no time to start like the present.”