With confusion over age eligibility resolved, Ontario’s pharmacies are on track to administer one million COVID-19 vaccinations a week — once there is enough vaccine, said the head of the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association.
“The challenge right now is a matter of demand and supply,” said Justin Bates, the association’s CEO. “There is certainly a lot of calls and interest with the participating pharmacies and the initial supply is only 500 doses per pharmacy.”
The pilot program began last Wednesday, with the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot available to 325 pharmacies in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor.
While Toronto residents aged 80 and over are being asked to register for vaccinations at city clinics starting this week, the pharmacies are giving the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot to those who are between the ages of 60 to 64.
There was early confusion about the eligible ages, but on Thursday, the Ontario government clarified that the vaccine will be given to those who “will be, or have been, 60 to 64 in 2021.” Initially, some people aged 65 were turned away, after waiting in long lines for the vaccine.
“Once there is enough supply it will be easier for residents to book an appointment and for us to quickly scale up and expand regions with more pharmacies participating in the program,” Bates said.
“We mobilized quickly to ensure that all of the doses of (AstraZeneca) vaccine that expire on April 2 get into arms,” he said.
The lack of a central booking system is a “challenge” as people may book multiple appoints in different locations, he said. That places the “onus on the pharmacy to manage the influx of people calling in for an appointment. Our focus is to efficiently get shots in arms.”
While the demand is high, pharmacies like Rexall and Shoppers Drug Mart say they have plans in place to avoid waste.
A spokesperson for Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw pharmacies (Loblaw owns Shoppers) said AstraZeneca is stable for 48 hours once the vial is punctured and each vial has 10 doses.
To ensure there is no waste, the spokesperson said appointments are booked in multiples of ten and vials are punctured one at a time. If any doses are left, “eligible individuals from our patient database will be called and asked to come in for vaccination that day.”
At Rexall, spokesperson Andrew Forgione said the pharmacy’s online registration offers an option to be on “stand by” in case others miss appointments or there are surplus doses.
“Being on ‘stand-by’ means the patient has an opportunity to be at a particular Rexall location within one hour of being contacted by our team, to receive their COVID-19 vaccine,” Forgione said.
“We feel this is a prudent approach to protect as many doses as possible.”