Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Ontario is planning to allow pharmacists to prescribe flu medication, administer flu shots to babies and administer RSV vaccines, when available, ahead of an expected fall viral surge.
The Ministry of Health is asking for feedback on new draft regulations from the Ontario College of Pharmacists, but with a short two−week comment period as the respiratory virus season looms.
“During the 2022−23 fall and winter season, Canadians experienced a surge of respiratory infections due to increased infections of influenza, RSV and COVID−19, which resulted in higher than usual hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and deaths compared to previous seasons,” the college writes in a document posted on the province’s regulatory registry.
“Based on insight from multiple health system and pharmacy partners, the 2023−24 fall and winter season may experience a similar surge of influenza, RSV and COVID−19 as community−based public health measures, such as masking, have relaxed.”
The new rules would see pharmacists able to prescribe Tamiflu – medication to treat influenza – to patients over one-year-old. Pharmacists have also been able to prescribe Paxlovid to treat COVID−19 since December, and the Ontario Pharmacists Association says there have been more than 174,000 such prescriptions.
As well, the regulations would allow pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to administer RSV vaccines once available.
Health Canada has approved an RSV vaccine for people aged 60 and older, but it may be of limited use during this season, as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization isn’t expected to issue guidance on it until next year.
In addition to seniors, infants are at a higher risk of getting very sick with RSV – or respiratory syncytial virus – but there is no vaccine for children, although they can receive antibody injections.
Pharmacists have been able to administer flu shots to people as young as two years old since 2020 – down from the previous cut−off of age five – and the new rules would remove age restrictions so that babies could receive flu shots at pharmacies.
The province also proposes to allow pharmacy technicians, who are able to administer COVID−19 vaccines, to give a host of other shots such as vaccines for HPV, hepatitis A and B, and rabies.
Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said the new rules would help people get health care more quickly and easily.
“These types of regulations will provide more access, and leveraging the success of the program that pharmacies have been involved in for some time now with the flu shots since 2013, and COVID shots,” he said.
“We’ve done almost three million annually for flu shots and I think we did almost 13 million COVID shots over the course of the program. Now we’re adding RSV vaccine … which I think will be important defence, as we look at what happened last fall.”
Intensive care units and emergency departments at the major children’s hospitals across the province saw historic volumes in 2022 from October to December.
Major pediatric hospitals in Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and London, Ont., cancelled surgeries in order to redeploy staff to overflowing intensive care units, emergency departments and general wards.
Health Minister Sylvia Jones is set to release a fall preparedness plan with the chief medical officer of health this week.
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