People who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the early days of the provincial pilot program in Windsor-Essex will become eligible to receive their second shots this week, but so far fewer than half of the pharmacies originally involved are signed up to offer second doses.
The program launched in March with 57 Windsor-Essex pharmacies, and according to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit's (WECHU) website as of Tuesday, 24 are stocking the second doses.
Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health for the region, said that not all pharmacies are participating due to limited supply and logistical challenges, but he said the region should have enough vaccine to administer second shots to those currently eligible.
As of this week, only those received the shot between March 10 and 19 are permitted to book their second appointments. WECHU CEO Theresa Marentette said around 4,500 doses have been earmarked for local pharmacies so far, and the majority of the locations will get their allocation on Tuesday.
Details on which pharmacies will be stocked with the shot are available on the health unit's website.
"If there is any additional shortage, we'll be talking to the Ministry [of Health and Long-term Care] to make sure that we make that connection and we try to get the additional or outstanding doses as quickly as possible," Ahmed said at the health unit's daily briefing on Tuesday.
One local resident who spoke with CBC News expressed frustration over not being able to get an appointment for her mother.
Emily Holland, whose mother got the vaccine at a Shoppers Drug Mart location in Belle River on March 13, was told that location is not offering the shots this time around.
She called other pharmacies, but was told that they're either not administering shots or prioritizing people who went there to get first doses before vaccinating others.
Holland called the situation "insanely frustrating" for her and her mother, and said she hasn't been able to get a straight answer on what to do next.
"We're kind of just waiting to see what happens, because I know we're not the only people. I know that there's going to be an outcry at this point," she said.
Hundreds of phone calls
One Windsor pharmacy owner, Francesco Vella of Medica Pharmacy, said that having fewer locations on board will add "a little more work" for the pharmacies that are continuing to participate in the program.
"We're telling the patients that are calling us not to worry. Anyone that wants to receive a dose over at Medica Pharmacy is more than welcome to. We take down their information. We're waiting for further guidance on the inventory of vaccine that we'll be receiving in the next few weeks and then we will go ahead and get to them," he said.
He's expecting to receive 50 doses Tuesday, and more to come as of next week, in order to vaccinate those who have received their first shot. He said the pharmacy has been bombarded with hundreds of phone calls so far from those seeking the vaccine.
More than 37,000 AstraZeneca recipients in Windsor-Essex
Overall, 37,080 people in Windsor-Essex have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The province is still working on plans for those who got their first dose after March 19.
The product's rollout was put on hiatus earlier this month over concerns about a very rare but serious blood clotting syndrome known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT). On Tuesday, Ontario reported its first death caused by VITT linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine; a man in his 40s who had received his first dose.
At the time the pause on first doses was announced, those awaiting second doses were told to await further instruction, which came on Friday.
In order to take advantage of about 55,000 doses that are set to expire on May 31, the province announced that people can opt for their second dose at 10 weeks, slightly ahead of the 12 weeks recommended for maximum effectiveness.
Ahmed confirmed that some of the doses coming to this region are ones that will expire at the end of the month, but said the health unit has been co-ordinating with pharmacies on the logistics and is not concerned that they will expire before they can be used.
"The pharmacies themselves, they are trying to figure out how they will schedule the appointments, just like they have done in the past with the first doses. So we are confident they should be able to do that," he said.