Phone ‘hanging up’ as islanders book vaccines at new travel clinic

After a long-standing PEI travel health clinic closed over the summer, the people behind a new one now operating in Charlottetown are hoping to fill the gap it left behind.

before him left his practice in July, Dr. Ray Cooke ran an immunization service for travelers at the Polyclinic in Charlottetown for several years. It and the Murphy’s Pharmacy travel health clinic in Parkdale were the only two sites in the province designated as yellow fever vaccination centers.

Amy Bulnes, a registered nurse who runs the new clinic inside the Travel Store on North River Road, said the closure has left a gap when it comes to travel advice and vaccination information.

“This is something that we definitely think is necessary for the islanders, especially as everyone is looking forward to getting out and traveling right now,” she said.

Amy Bulnes, a registered nurse who works at The Travel Clinic, says she hopes the clinic can help take the pressure off GPs and provide patients with travel health advice. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Cooke passed along his files and other information, Bulnes said, as well as the phone number of the previous clinic.

The clinic began receiving consultations in early December. Bulnes said he is now booking more than four or five appointments a day.

Thankfully we are taking some off their plates as they are obviously very busy.—Amy Bulnes

“It’s been crazy. The phone is off the hook,” she said.

Many of those seeking appointments don’t have family doctors or haven’t been able to make appointments with them in time to travel, Bulnes said. That’s a problem she expects to continue, especially as GPs remain in high demand.

“Hopefully we are taking some off their plates as they are obviously very busy,” Bulnes said.

Morning Island4:27travel vaccine challenge

Demand for travel this winter is also seeing an increase in travel immunization requests. We’ll hear why these requests are being transferred to travel clinics in PEI.

High demand for doctors

Randy MacKinnon, a family physician who is helping to oversee the clinic at the Travel Store, said he also hopes the clinic can take the pressure off busy primary care physicians and nurses.

Isabelle Fontaine, registered nurse who runs the Evolution Travel Clinic in Moncton.
Isabelle Fontaine says she sees PEI clients almost daily at her Moncton travel clinic. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

“As family physicians, there’s always a huge demand in our offices to see someone,” he said.

MacKinnon said he often hears from patients who are making travel plans that it can be difficult to get appointments with their doctors in a timely manner.

That poses a problem for certain travel vaccines, he said. A common travel vaccine to protect against hepatitis A and hepatitis B called Twinrix requires three doses – and two of them need to be given before travel begins.

Isabelle Fontaine, a registered nurse who runs the Evolution Travel Clinic in Moncton, says it’s one of the reasons she’s been seeing so many islanders at her clinic lately — “almost one a day.”

She still has patients coming back for all three doses of the Twinrix vaccine, which can be expensive considering the cost of gas and the bridge toll.

“I would like them to have the same service in PEI. It’s not that I don’t want to see them, don’t get me wrong,” she said.

“But I feel bad that they have to travel so far to get service.”

A man holding a stethoscope to a patient's chest.
The Doctor. Randy MacKinnon says it can sometimes be challenging for patients to schedule appointments with their GPs in time to receive their travel shots. (Submitted by Randy MacKinnon)

Twinrix is ​​available at several pharmacies on the island, as well as the Charlottetown Travel Clinic. As with all travel vaccines, the patient pays a fee to obtain it.

Advance booking is recommended

MacKinnon said the new clinic can help travelers get vaccinated in time, but it also has another benefit.

“There is a great deal of education that is also provided to residents who visit the travel clinic,” he said, including information about health and safety while traveling.

The doctor said he recommends people book their appointments as early as possible to avoid delays.

Bulnes said that with the sheer volume of patients so far, scheduling appointments can sometimes be challenging.

She encouraged people traveling to make an appointment a month in advance to ensure maximum immunity, although they can still vaccinate people two weeks before travel.

Phone ‘hanging up’ as islanders book vaccines at new travel clinic

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