Nova Scotia

Here are the respiratory illness vaccines available to seniors in N.S. this season

The high-dose influenza, COVID-19 and pneumococcal vaccines are publicly funded. But people need to pay for the new respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine for people aged 60.

3 types of vaccines are available under provincial health system

Gloved hands draw put a needle into a vial.
As people get older, they are at increased risk of respiratory infections said public health physician Dr. Ryan Sommers. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)

This respiratory illness season, there are three publicly funded vaccines available to people aged 65 and older seeking greater protection: the high-dose influenza, COVID-19 and pneumococcal vaccines.

After being primarily offered to people in licensed long-term care facilities, this is the first year people 65 or older can receive the high-dose flu vaccine for free. 

Dr. Ryan Sommers, a public health physician with Nova Scotia Health, said it's recommended that people in that age range receive the high-dose shot because it usually induces a better immune response. "As people get older, their immune system doesn't respond as well to vaccines," he said.

Meanwhile, the pneumococcal vaccine protects against a type of bacteria that can cause lung infections — predominantly pneumonia — and can lead to hospitalization.

People can obtain flu vaccines from pharmacists and family doctors, while the COVID-19 vaccine is primarily accessed through pharmacies. Sommers said there is a new trial this year where a small number of family physician offices are beginning to offer COVID-19 shots. 

The pneumococcal shot can be administered by pharmacists, said Beverley Zwicker, CEO and registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists. She said other than some travel vaccines which require extra certification "all vaccines are available for pharmacists to prescribe and to administer."

Nova Scotians can also obtain the pneumococcal vaccine from family physicians and the province's primary care pharmacy clinics which opened in 2023, according to Sommers.

He said all three of the publicly funded shots can be safely received together. People with a Nova Scotia health card can book COVID-19 and flu shot pharmacy appointments online. Those without health cards can still book and receive those shots for free by calling 1-833-797-7772.

RSV vaccine not publicly funded in N.S.

In August, Health Canada approved the first respiratory syncytial virus vaccine for people 60 and over. RSV is a common and contagious virus which can cause pneumonia for people with more vulnerable immune systems.

However, Sommers said the shot is currently only available privately in the province, meaning people have to pay out-of-pocket or through their private health insurance. That's because the National Advisory Committee on Immunization — a national advisory committee that provides guidance on the use of vaccines in Canada — has yet to issue its recommendations. 

"We're waiting for that statement to determine if this will be added to the publicly funded list of vaccines," Sommers said. He recommends people seeking the RSV shot and other respiratory illness vaccines to speak with a doctor about the timing of the shot. In Ontario, which has begun rolling out a publicly funded RSV vaccine program, it is recommended that individuals receive their RSV shot 14 days before or after other vaccines.

Zwicker said the new RSV vaccine is a "prescription-only" vaccine which pharmacists in the province can prescribe and administer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lam

Reporter/Associate Producer

Andrew Lam (they/she) is a Chinese-Canadian and trans reporter for CBC Nova Scotia. They are interested in 2SLGBTQIA+, labour and data-driven stories. Andrew also has a professional background in data analytics and visualization. You can reach her at andrew.lam@cbc.ca

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