All British Columbians who want to be vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus can roll up their sleeves starting Friday, two weeks sooner than initially expected.
Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said Thursday that waning demand for the vaccine this week has led to a drastic reduction in lineups at many clinics, possibly because the number of swine flu hospitalizations has not risen.
The vaccine program was expanded last week to include healthy children, seniors with chronic conditions and health-care workers.
"When we expanded eligibility criteria last Friday to include more groups, I frankly expected lineups and crowds at vaccine clinics and doctors' offices," Dr. Kendall said.
"We didn't see that in many parts of the province this week," he said, calling the uneven pattern a "dynamic picture of fluctuating demand."
At one Vancouver clinic on Wednesday, row upon row of chairs in a gym sat empty while a nurse waited for patients.
Hundreds of people lined up for hours at the same clinic a few weeks ago at the height of the flu pandemic panic, as hospitalizations started to increase.
Health officials in B.C. say the second wave of the virus has peaked in the province, but Dr. Kendall said he hopes people don't become complacent about getting the H1N1 flu shot.
"Unless we get immunized, there's a still a potential for B.C. to see many hospitalizations and some deaths in the coming weeks," he said.
"I have to say that I'm hoping we run out of vaccine quickly because I'd much rather that happen than the vaccine sit unused in people's fridges."
Dr. Kendall said anyone who has attended a clinic with someone else getting the shot has already been offered the vaccine this week because demand has been so much lower than anticipated.
He said B.C. will receive 258,000 doses of the vaccine this week, and 640,000 more next week.
By the end of November, two million doses of the vaccine will have been available in B.C. - enough to vaccine half the population, Dr. Kendall said.
Manitoba and Ontario are already offering the flu shot to the general public.
Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and PEI are slated to expand their vaccination programs next week.