Deputy minister of health, Kevin McNamara, gets a flu shot from pharmacist Susan Bowles on Friday.

For the first time, Nova Scotians can head into their neighbourhood pharmacy to get a flu shot.

Kevin McNamara, Health and Wellness deputy minister, made the announcement Friday at the annual flu campaign launch before rolling up his sleeve to receive a shot at Dalhousie University’s College of Pharmacy.

“It’s the accessibility, they’re in every community in our province,” McNamara said after the event. “To some degree there are more pharmacists than Tim Hortons.”

Shelagh Campbell-Palmer, manager of professional practice for the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists, said this is another step forward for pharmacists to help “fill in the gaps” of the health-care system.

“Pharmacists have known for a long time they were capable of contributing more,” Campbell-Palmer said.

She said registered pharmacy technicians will help reduce the pharmacist’s workload, and free up their time for immunizations.

McNamara specifically asked hospital workers like doctors and nurses to get the shot this year in order to protect their patients.

The vaccines are taken around to each floor to make it easier, but health-care workers traditionally have a low immunization rate.

“They think they’re not vulnerable to the flu, but they are,” McNamara said.

This year’s flu shot contains H3N2, H1N1 and influenza B, which are the strains most likely to be around this winter, said Dr. Frank Atherton.

Atherton, deputy chief public health officer for N.S., said he’s already started to see the first cases hit the province.

“Flu is not a trivial illness,” Atherton said. “It can cause quite serious respiratory illness in people. It can really lay you low.”

He said it’s especially important for seniors, young children, pregnant women and those with chronic health issues to get a shot.

About one-third of Nova Scotians get the flu shot every year, a percentage Atherton said should climb this year with more access to the vaccine.

Although some say they don’t need the shot because they haven’t had a flu in years, Atherton said “they’ve been lucky,” and between one in five and one in ten Canadians catch the illness each year.

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