Any B.C. resident who expects to visit a hospital or residential care facility during influenza season this year will be eligible for a free flu shot.
The province has issued new rules this year for who qualifies for the publicly funded vaccine. In addition to high risk groups like children, seniors, First Nations people and anyone with certain chronic health conditions, the government will also be offering free shots for visitors to healthcare or other patient care facilities.
Ministry of Health spokesman Ryan Jabs said the new policy will apply to places like hospitals and residential care centres as well as other clinics operated by health authorities. People who are visiting doctors' offices not directly connected with Northern Health will not qualify for the publicly funded vaccine.
The policy also states that anyone who visits one of those facilities like a hospital, but is not vaccinated, will be expected to wear a mask during flu season. There will be signs outlining the new rules at healthcare facilities along with the masks.
Although there will not be people actively checking to see if visitors are vaccinated or not, Jabs said people will be expected to comply with the new rules which are in place to try to reduce the spread of the disease.
"It's out of precaution for patient safety," he said.
People who do expect to visit an urgent care facility or other Northern Health affiliated clinic can receive the vaccine through clinics put on by public health, by visiting pharmacies or by making an appointment with their family physician.
In addition anyone who lives with someone who is in a high-risk group qualifies for a free vaccine.
"If you have a child living in your house who is three, everyone else in that household is eligible because that child is classified as high-risk because they're under five," said Carolyn Bouchard, program manager for the communicable disease team for Prince George. "Or if you have a parent or grandparent living with you and they're over 65, everyone else in that household is considered eligible because that over 65-year-old is high risk."
Although the definition of who qualifies for a free vaccine is more broad this year, Jabs said the government is confident it has enough supply to meet the demand.
The expanded rules now make many people eligible for the vaccine, but the province has stopped short of following Ontario's lead in making vaccines free for all residents.