VANCOUVER – Local health officials say they're burning through the roughly 450,000 flu vaccine doses they ordered this year – but they can always get more if necessary.

Dr. Meena Dawar from Vancouver Coastal Health said officials have already distributed about 90 per cent of the shots they initially ordered for the 2019 flu season.

"It's going fast," Dawar said. "Certainly the orders coming in from community organizers has been high."

Those 450,000 doses are enough to vaccinate about 40 per cent of the people served by Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates in a number of cities and communities on the south and central coasts, including Richmond, Powell River, Bella Bell and Bella Coola.

In Vancouver, pharmacists told CTV News they've been scrambling to keep the flu vaccine in stock. Rashin Mandegarian said the phones at her Shoppers Drug Mart downtown are ringing off the hook.

Employees have been getting "at least 30" calls daily, Mandegarian said, and then there are the people who pop by in person to check whether the vaccine is available.

Health officials estimate the vaccine is about 60-70 per cent effective, but there's no way to know in advance how bad the flu season will be. Dawar said the early season has been "severe" in the southern hemisphere, however.

The important thing to remember is that getting a shot is as much about protecting the people around you as it is about sparing yourself the misery of a serious flu infection.

Infection can be devastating for young children, pregnant women, elderly people and anyone with an underlying health condition. In really bad cases, the flu can even be fatal – it kills thousands of Canadians every year.

"Flu is not a game," Mandegarian said.

That's why Vancouver Coastal Health recommends annual flu shots for everyone six months of age and older.

The health authority said shots are currently available at doctor's offices, walk-in clinics, special flu clinics and urgent primary care centres. People who are five years old and older can also receive the vaccine at pharmacies, but anyone who is not in an at-risk group must pay $25-$35 for a shot. Some private insurance covers the cost. 

To find a flu clinic near you, enter your postal code on the ImmunizeBC website.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim