‘What’s wrong with B.C.?’: Seniors group questions why province isn’t covering cost of new RSV vaccine

FILE: B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix speaks to the media in Richmond, B.C., on Nov. 27, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

This cold and flu season, the B.C. government has been warning about RSV, a respiratory virus that can be dangerous, especially for high-risk seniors.

That has Ramona Kaptyn, a B.C. advocate with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, wondering why the province isn’t covering the cost of a new RSV vaccine called Arexvy that has just been approved by Health Canada.

The price tag for British Columbians who choose to pay out of pocket at a pharmacy? $290.

“Why not just give us the free vaccine? We would keep so many people out of emergency rooms. We know what’s happening in emergency rooms, it’s absolutely dreadful,” said Kaptyn, who argues covering the cost of the vaccine would save money in the long run by keeping seniors out of the ER.

Pharmacist Nika Maghsoud agrees. She says many patients coming for flu shots at her North Vancouver Pharmasave ask about the RSV vaccine, but balk at the cost.

“They’re shocked, and some of them just turn away, some of them go away to think about it, never come back,” said Maghsoud.

Doug Beaton, who came to the Pharmasave on Monday for his flu shot, was disappointed when he learned he would have to pay nearly $300.

“I’m sure a lot of people cannot afford that, it would just be too much money,” Beaton said. “The flu shot is free for everybody, but not the RSV shot. So on one hand they’re doing preventative, and on the other hand, they’re not.”

The government of Ontario is the only province that’s covering the new RSV vaccine for everyone 60 and over who’s living in long-term care, and some residents of other seniors facilities.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said his government is waiting for federal guidance on Arexvy before deciding on coverage.

“The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) will be making recommendations about its use, and we are likely to follow those recommendations,” said Dix.

But NACI has already recommended the shingles vaccine for everyone 50 and older, and B.C. isn’t covering that either. The two-dose regimen costs $320.

“It just isn’t fair, what’s wrong with B.C.?” said Kaptyn, who believes both the RSV and shingles should be free for seniors.

“I don’t understand why it’s not something that’s being fast-tracked, particularly with the way our health-care system is operating right now. We are in a huge crisis,” Kaptyn said.

“It’s more like preventative medicine, where we can prevent the patients from going to the hospitals. It’s definitely something we should consider when we are looking at how busy our healthcare is these days,” said Maghsoud.

Beaton also believes the province needs to look at the big picture when it comes to health care costs.

“I think paying up front will reduce the back end cost to healthcare. If someone doesn’t go to the hospital because they get the immunization, that’s going to save the government and the system a lot of money,” Beaton said.

The 64-year-old chose not to get his RSV vaccine at his pharmacy visit on Monday, opting to take a pamphlet and think about it first. Maghsoud says most patients who say they will think about it never come back for the shot, adding “They want it, they just can’t afford it.”

Source: CTV News