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Flu shots now a tourist attraction

Associated Press

Seattle — In an enterprising combination of tourism and health care, people are taking a high-speed ferry cruise across scenic Puget Sound to British Columbia, and getting a flu shot, too.

The company that operates the ferry has lined up a supply of vaccine through a Canadian company, and provides the shots to riders at the terminal on the Canadian side once they clear customs.

At $105 (U.S.), it is an expensive flu shot, though it is a discount from the normal $115 round-trip fare to ride the Victoria Clipper. But there was a long line of people waiting before dawn Tuesday to board the boat for the 130-kilometre trip that includes views of bald eagles, whales, tree-covered islands and snow-capped mountains.

Eileen Johnson, 80, said she and her husband, Joe, had travelled 80 kilometres to make the trip. Joe Johnson is 81 and has emphysema.

“He's got to have that shot. That's the only reason we're going. Health care in America, yippee!” Ellen Johnson said sarcastically.

The 2½-hour voyage on the Clipper is a popular excursion, but demand tends to fall off as the weather gets cooler and wetter. The flu-shot package is helping fill a boat that normally runs one-half to two-thirds empty on weekdays this time of year.

“It's been incredible! As soon as the news started breaking we were inundated with calls,” said Darrell Bryan, executive vice-president and general manager of Clipper Navigation. “We're filling what we feel is a needed void, but we're not trying to gouge the public.”

The U.S. supply of flu vaccine was slashed nearly in half when British manufacturer Chiron Corp. was barred from shipping any of its production because of contamination at a plant in England.

The shortage has prompted officials to urge healthy Americans to forgo shots so there will be enough for those at risk of getting seriously ill from the flu.

But aboard the Victoria Clipper, anyone who wants a shot can get one. Ed and Patty Dunn, both in their 70s, could not get flu shots from their usual clinic in Seattle. So they took the boat for the fun — and the flu shots. Patty Dunn added that she would also have lunch at a fancy Italian restaurant.

For some passengers, the flu shot was just a bonus.

Louise Carson, 62, of Eatonville, planned to see the Eternal Egypt exhibit at the Royal British Columbia Museum and said she might get a flu shot while she was at it.

Mr. Bryan said the ferry service's supply of vaccine came from a Canadian company that has plenty and can get more. The shots will be offered until the end of the year.

With three Victoria Clippers, ranging in size from 33 feet to 40 metres, the company can transport as many as 800 people a day. The boats can go up to 75 km/h.

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