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Phone ‘going off the hook’ as Islanders book vaccines at new travel clinic

After a long-running P.E.I. 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 he left his practice in July, Dr. Ray Cooke had run a travel vaccination service at the Polyclinic in Charlottetown for several years. It and the Murphy’s Pharmacy travel health clinic in Parkdale were the only two locations in the province designated as yellow fever vaccination centres. 

Amy Bulnes, a registered nurse who is running the new clinic within the Travel Store on North River Road, said that closure left a gap when it came to travel advice and information about vaccinations. 

“This is something that we definitely thought was needed for Islanders, especially since everybody’s itching to get out and travel now,” she said. 

A woman standing in the middle of an office, smiling at the camera.
Amy Bulnes, a registered nurse working at The Travel Clinic, says she hopes the clinic can help ease the strain on family physicians and provide patients with travel health advice. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

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

The clinic first started taking appointments in early December. Bulnes said she is now booking more than four or five appointments a day. 

Hopefully, we’re taking a little bit off of their plates, since they’re obviously very busy.— Amy Bulnes

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

Many of the people seeking appointments don’t have family doctors, or weren’t able to get appointments with them in time to travel, Bulnes said. That’s an issue she expects to continue, especially as family physicians remain in high demand. 

“Hopefully, we’re taking a little bit off of their plates, since they’re obviously very busy,” Bulnes said.

High demand for doctors

Randy MacKinnon, a family physician who is helping oversee the clinic at the Travel Store, said he too hopes the clinic can take the pressure off busy primary care doctors and nurse practitioners. 

A man holding a stethoscope to a patient's chest.
Dr. Randy MacKinnon says it can sometimes be challenging for patients to book appointments with their family doctors in time to get their travel vaccines. (Submitted by Randy MacKinnon)

“As family physicians, there is always great demand placed on our offices to see anybody,” he said. 

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

This 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 those need to be administered before the trip begins. 

Twinrix is available at several Island pharmacies, as well as the clinic. As with all travel vaccines, the patient pays a fee to obtain it.

Booking in advance recommended

MacKinnon said the new clinic can help travellers get their vaccines in time, but it also has another benefit. 

“There’s a big education piece that’s also provided to those residents that come to the travel clinic,” he said, including health and safety information while travelling. 

The doctor said he recommends people book their appointments sooner rather than later, to avoid running into any delays. 

Bulnes said with the high volume of patients so far, scheduling appointments can sometimes be a challenge.

She encouraged people who are travelling to book an appointment a month in advance to ensure maximum immunity, though they can still vaccinate people two weeks before travel. 

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