Update on CARP BC Vaccine Advocacy

BC chapters have been advocating hard for the provincial government to provide free shingles vaccines and high-dose flu vaccines to all seniors.

Currently in BC shingles vaccines coverage is available at no cost to First Nations Elders who are 65 years old and older.  The high-dose flu vaccines are provided to residents in Long Term Care and Assisted Living facilities and those in Indigenous communities ages 65 and older.

CARP believes all seniors should receive the shingles and high-dose flu vaccine for free.

A letter was sent to Premier David Eby and Health Minister Adrian Dix in late June by CARP chapters in BC including Doug Jones, President of the Vancouver Island CARP chapter. Ramona Kaptyn, CARP BC’s Chief Advocacy and Communications officer, notes that in BC shingles vaccines cost anywhere from $160 to $210, depending on the pharmacy.The cost of a high-dose flu vaccine also varies.

This cost, Kaptyn noted, can pose a problem for seniors living on low and fixed incomes.

“A vaccination can keep you from getting terribly ill and dying so why should seniors have to pay for things that are going to prevent them from being hospitalized and being a bigger burden on the health care system? By giving a senior a vaccine you’re going to keep them out of emergency possibly and you’re going to keep them out of hospital. What a big savings that would be to our health care system, particularly given right now we’re in crisis.”

While BC’s next provincial election is set for Oct. 19, 2024, Kaptyn wonders if it will be called sooner because Eby’s office responded to CARP’s letter on the same day it was sent.

“Eby replied the same day. That has never happened in my whole life time,” said Kaptyn, 65.

“We see that you have provided a copy of your message to the Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, for his review and consideration,” the Office of the Premier replied. “On your behalf, we have also been in contact with the Ministry of Health and have requested that they follow up with you directly regarding this matter. Please be assured that the appropriate ministry official will respond to your letter at their earliest opportunity.”

Kaptyn and other CARP representatives had their fingers crossed for success, however, the government’s response fell flat.

“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 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.

Read more about CARP and vaccines.


Original article: July 23, Updated September 23