Americans pull Canada into the act

The scene of Americans standing in line for a flu shot moved to Canada Tuesday

The scene of Americans standing in line for a flu shot moved to Canada Tuesday.

After word spread that two clinics across the border from Buffalo were offering the vaccine commercially, patients started the queue at 6:30 a.m. to ensure receiving a much-coveted dose. And in Montreal an online pharmacy announced a new flu service, too, for those willing to travel.

“I don”t think a lot of people will be running up there, but it is available as a last resort,” said Michael Burgess, the executive director of the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans, which represents retired union workers.

Burgess said he received so many calls from seniors inquiring about availability that he helped to set up the service offered by While the Canadian online pharmacy is based in Calgary, it is coordinating with Montreal doctors to provide both an examination and the influenza shot for $75.

At the same time, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called upon the secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, Tuesday to obtain excess doses from Canada and other countries. ID Biomedical, based in Vancouver, Canada, has offered more than 1 million doses to the United States.

Talks between ID Biomedical and the Food and Drug Administration are continuing, but no decision has been made, according to an ID Biomedical representative.

And Americans shouldn”t necessarily look into ordering it directly from a Canadian online pharmacy. Last week, the Canadian International Pharmacy Association sent out a memo to its members that because of safety concerns it should not ship the influenza vaccine.

Tim Windsor of Urgent Care Niagara in Ontario said Americans started inquiring a few weeks ago about obtaining flu shots at his Niagara Falls or Fort Erie clinics. But at the time, he had a supply designated only for Canadians. So he ordered three shipments commercially and is now selling the vaccine for about $42 a shot. But demand was so high Tuesday that by early afternoon the clinics had already promised the 200 doses available that day. And some people had to be turned away.

“We did not anticipate this,” said Windsor, Fort Erie Urgent Care”s clinical services director. “We had an inkling that this was going to be a valuable service, but we were not going to promote it.” Then a radio station reported on the availability, and crowds followed.

When Tony Iacovangelo, 63, and his wife, Kathryn, 51, heard about it, they decided to make the hour-plus trip from their home in Rochester. He has chronic bronchitis. The couple arrived at 1:30 p.m., in time to receive the last two tickets for the shots at the Niagara Falls clinic.

But Tony is not angry about having to drive to Canada to get a shot he usually receives in his local physician”s office. “I guess everybody could be upset,” he said. “But I think this is probably the smallest crisis in our lives, worrying about flu shots.”

But he acknowledged that the drive wouldn”t be so easy for those who live farther from the border. And Dr. David Graham, Suffolk”s director of public health, warned about the risks inherent in making the long drive from New York City or Long Island, as well as obtaining a vaccine that is not approved by the FDA.