The Canadian Association of Retired Persons says the NDP provincial government’s refusal to provide seniors with free vaccinations against shingles as well as high-dose flu vaccines free of charge – as other provinces do – is “disappointing if not alarming.”
CARP has a membership of more than 3,000 seniors in Surrey/White Rock and 20,000 province-wide. In June, it sent a letter to Premier David Eby and Health Minister Adrian Dix lobbying them for free vaccinations as their cost is prohibitive for seniors living on low and fixed incomes.
Ramona Kaptyn, a Surrey resident and CARP BC’s chief advocacy and communications officer, noted in B.C. shingles vaccines cost anywhere from $160 to $210, she said.
Kaptyn said she’s had shingles twice, and describes it as “probably the worst thing you can imagine.”
The provincial government’s response fell flat, she said. “We are disappointed.”
“We’re just going to keep trying,” she vowed. “B.C. seems to be behind everybody else in everything.”
Assistant Deputy Health Minister Maryna Korchagina responded she’s “pleased to report that all BC seniors aged 65 and older were offered publicly funded, enhanced influenza vaccines to provide additional protections against influenza-related illness, complications, and hospitalization during the 2022/23 viral respiratory illness season. This offering of enhanced influenza vaccines for all BC seniors will be continuing once again this fall.”
But CARP says the provincial government is not offering the high-dose flu vaccine, recommended for older adults as it triggers a stronger immune response and provides protection against flu-related complications that, according to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization in Canada, is superior to the enhanced standard-dose vaccine B.C. offers.
“This is particularly important given the higher risk of severe flu outcomes in our elders,” Kaptyn said. “The Centre for Disease Control in the U.S. also recommends the high-dose flu vaccination as it contains four times more antigen than regular vaccines, so it provides superior protection against illness and hospitalization.”
Kaptyn noted that nearly one in three Canadians will develop shingles, with the severity increasing sharply after age 50. “Shingles can lead to postherpetic neuralgia and even death. It not only impacts the quality of life of the affected individual, but it also places a burden on their families and our healthcare system,” she said.
Meantime, Korchagina in her response to CARP’s concern stated that “our provincial immunization experts are currently assessing the feasibility of a publicly funded shingles vaccine program, which will be reviewed by the ministry for final decision.”
To this, Kaptyn replies that healthcare “needs to be fixed now.”
“Don’t we matter? Don’t older adults matter in the healthcare system? What’s going on?”
According the ImmunizeBC, the shingles vaccine can be purchased at most pharmacies and travel clinics and is administered in two doses two to six months apart. Since February 2021, the shingles vaccine has been available at no cost to First Nations seniors aged 65 and older.