Easy access to flu vaccine finally realized


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November 6, 2014 11:04 AM

Jelena Okuka, pharmacist and manager of the pharmacy in the Co-op Marketplace, administers the flu vaccine. - Jon Clarke Photo

Alberta residents of Lloydminster can now get free influenza vaccine injections from pharmacies on their side of the Border City.

Two years ago, Albertan patients gained the right to receive publically funded flu vaccinations from their pharmacies, however, for Albertan pharmacists in Lloydminster, this benefit didn’t apply.

This meant that Albertan patients with the right to free flu injections would have to pay.

The reason those pharmacies were exempt from receiving the free publically funded flu vaccine was that, since they were in Lloydminster, they fell under Prairie North Health Region, a service that only covers the northwest portion of central Saskatchewan.

In Saskatchewan, pharmacists did not have the right to give injections and therefore could not receive flu vaccinations, either. Effectively, Albertan pharmacies had to work under those Saskatchewan policies.

But not any more.

Jelena Okuka is a pharmacist and manager of the pharmacy at the Co-op Marketplace in Lloydminster on the Alberta side. She’s seen firsthand the complications that arise when the drug benefit policies of two provinces clash in the middle.

“I understand that, from (the provinces’) point of view, it’s hard to figure something out like this,” she said.

But regardless, she made the push that would bring free flu vaccinations to Albertan pharmacies in Lloydminster. After many phone calls and emails, Okuka would communicate with representatives from the Alberta Pharmacist Association, Alberta Public Health and Prairie North Health Region.

Now, as of Oct. 20, Lloydminster patients with a valid Alberta health card number can finally exercise their right to free flu vaccinations at their pharmacy in Lloydminster.

“I think it’s still something that’s very, very new and a lot of patients and people in Lloydminster don’t know that they can get the flu shot from their pharmacist,” said Okuka. But since those shots have become available, she’s noticed the difference.

“We’ve got a couple of people who have expressed the ease of access,” said Okuka, who works at a pharmacy which is located in a grocery store. This means that people can swing by for a shot while they’re shopping, instead of scheduling a time out of their work week to receive an injection.

“They may not have gotten the flu shot otherwise,” she said, “which is the whole point of why pharmacists were given the right to provide injections in Alberta ... and we just wanted it to be equal for the Albertans in Lloydminster.”

Okuka said that she feels very strongly about fair treatment to everyone in Lloydminster and that the flu shot is important to receive, whichever side of the border one lives on.

“The flu shot is different every year and because you do have to get it annually, I think, to make it as easy as possible to get that flu shot is important,” she said.

Okuka wants to remind people that middle-aged individuals with healthy immune systems should still consider getting their shot. Though they may be able to fight the virus, their contact with children and the elderly, who may not be capable of fighting the virus, can spread it if a shot has not been given.

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