A steady flow of elderly Albertans are visiting pharmacies, now that they are eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster shot.
Previously, immunocompromised Albertans, as well as seniors in congregate care settings, were the only ones eligible to receive a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But the provincial government expanded eligibility this week to all Albertans aged 75 or older, and Indigenous people aged 65 or older.
Lillian and Rudy Franke received their booster shots Wednesday — which worked out because they had already planned to get their flu shot that morning anyway.
"The announcement came about a third shot so we thought we'd do the same thing," said Rudy, 79.
"We're very careful," said 80-year-old Lillian, as the two waited at All Care Pharmacy in Edmonton.
Alberta is one of the first provinces to offer third doses to these groups of seniors.
Alberta Health said 6,627 appointments were booked through their system Wednesday — double the number from Tuesday, and over six times the number of bookings from Monday.
Ghada Haggag, owner and operator of All Care Pharmacy, expected the announcement eventually, because lsat month the United States' Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for a single booster dose.
Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended booster shots for certain immunocompromised people, as well as seniors in congregate settings. It has not yet released guidance for the general population.
Calls from people inquiring when third doses would become available at the pharmacy started streaming in shortly after the province's announcement, Haggag said.
"We are running like crazy, especially since this is the time where everybody is expected to get their flu shot," Haggag said.
Wednesday was busy, she said, as about a dozen newly-eligible Albertans came in for a booster within 30 minutes of opening.
Fear plays a part, Haggag says, as Alberta's health-care system struggles with high numbers of intensive care patients.
"The seniors — we feel their pain, we feel how they are scared, how they are running for it."
As of Thursday, there are 1,094 Albertans being treated in hospital for COVID-19, including 248 patients in ICU.
Between COVID-19 boosters and flu shots, Kim Henke, owner and manager of Bearspaw Family Pharmacy, is anticipating a busy immunization season for pharmacies.
Henke has seen a lot of uptake of first doses since Alberta's restriction exception program was implemented, but received a slew of calls about booster shots Wednesday, she said.
"A lot of calls to do with that for sure — determining eligibility and making sure they know what week they can come in and what the scoop is," she said.
Since eligibility opened at the beginning of September, Henke has given boosters to Albertans who are travelling to places that do not accept visitors vaccinated with Covishield/AstraZeneca, or mixed doses, she said.
A total of 143,395 third doses had been administered in Alberta as of Wednesday. Of those, 35,124 were given to people living in congregate care settings, according to Alberta Health.
Further breakdown by eligibility is not tracked by the department.
Vaccine appointments can be booked online or by calling 811, but people can only get a booster shot if at least six months have elapsed since their second dose.