AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein

AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein

Lower Mainland pharmacists face ‘overwhelming’ demand for AstraZeneca shots

COVID vaccines available for people between the ages of 55 and 65

Despite a series of stumbling blocks in the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout at community pharmacies, the president of the BC Pharmacy Association says she’s excited to see so much demand for the shots.

Annette Robinson said the rollout was “overwhelming.” The announcement about people aged 55 to 65 being eligible for the vaccine at Lower Mainland pharmacies came only Tuesday afternoon, not leaving much time for preparation.

“A lot of pent-up demand. People are very interested in getting the vaccination,” Robinson said, noting that the recent news about AstraZeneca did not seem to temper interest at all. On Monday, B.C. officials announced that they were pausing the frontline worker program, which had run parallel to the age-based vaccine rollout, because of concerns over vaccine-induced pro-thrombotic immune thrombocytopenia (VIPIT) in people under the age of 55. Officials said there had been less than 30 cases identified around the world, primarily in Europe, and none in Canada.

“Pharmacists are the drug experts,” Robinson said. “We’re very able to answer those questions and remove that hesitancy.”

While hesitancy did not appear to be an issue with the AstraZeneca vaccine this week, Robinson said their was only one consideration in which vaccine people should sign up for: “The best vaccine is the one that you’re offered first.”

However, the AstraZeneca rollout was not without issues. London Drugs, which had three locations participating in the program, was inundated with calls and booked up all its doses Tuesday.

In a series of tweets, the company outlined its concerns.

“As soon as the news was public, all of our Lower Mainland British Columbia stores became inundated with customers wanting to book appointments. Our pharmacies that were selected immediately began taking down eligible patient information aged 55 to 65 for appointments,” the company said in a a social media post. London Drugs asked people to stop calling its pharmacies and that when more doses were available, they would be added to its online booking tool.

“These pharmacies learned yesterday that clearly there’s as a pent-up demand and we’re just happy to help,” Robinson explained.

Shoppers Drug Mart was also inundated, and did not have an online booking system, while Rexall provided only a waitlist online.

On Thursday afternoon, Health Minister Adrian Dix said that pharmacies in the Lower Mainland were provided with 13,500 doses, just under 20 per cent of the doses B.C. has received of the AstraZeneca vaccine overall. Dix said that pharmacies received does based on their flu shot rollout last the fall.

“We’re expecting, from the federal government… 43,000 more on Friday,” Dix added, noting that does not include the 1.5 million expected from the U.S.

Robinson said this had been a busier than usual six months overall for pharmacies, which first dealt with limited supply during the flu shot rollout this fall.

“We administered over a million flu shots and that’s historic,” she said. “We can use a lot of the information, the tools and the resources that we had garnered about vaccinating patients in the middle of a pandemic with the flu shots… and use that for the COVID vaccinations.

More vaccines are expected to arrive at pharmacies, and Robinson said pharmacies will communicate out when they have more doses. Until then, she urged people to have patience.

Black Press Media has reached out to the province for more details on amount of vaccine available to pharmacies. In total, B.C. officials said the program is meant to get 300,000 doses in arms around the province.

For a list of participating pharmacies, visit: www.bcpharmacy.ca/resource-centre/covid-19/vaccination-locations.

READ MORE: B.C.’s frontline worker vaccine program in flux as AstraZeneca use paused for under-55s

READ MORE: AstraZeneca vaccine to be offered to Lower Mainland residents ages 55-65 starting March 31

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