Frustration builds as walk-in vaccination offer draws crowd

·2 min read
Shortly after word went out online, the queue outside the Loblaws store at College Square stretched down the sidewalk. (Francis Ferland/CBC  - image credit)
Shortly after word went out online, the queue outside the Loblaws store at College Square stretched down the sidewalk. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Hundreds of people braved the early morning chill to line up outside an Ottawa grocery store Monday after hearing the pharmacy inside was offering doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on a first-come, first-served basis.

But many of those waiting outside the College Square Loblaws on Baseline Road said they'd put their names on waiting lists for a vaccine once they became eligible under provincial rules, only to hear about the walk-in offer online through the group Vaccine Hunters Canada.

"It's kind of frustrating. Obviously the wait-list system doesn't seem to be working," noted Gordon McGregor, who said he headed to the store just minutes after the alert went out. Despite arriving early, he was 94th in line.

"There doesn't seem to be any plan in place. It's totally disorganized. But ... you've kind of got to go where you think you're going to have your best chance and hope for the best, right?"

McGregor eventually got his shot, but not everyone was so lucky. A video taken less than an hour after the pharmacy opened shows the queue stretching around three sides of the large building.

Distribution up to individual outlets

A spokesperson for the parent company that includes Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies said overall, there's currently more demand than there are available doses.

The company has a one-stop web portal where people who are eligible under current provincial rules can put their names on a waiting list for an appointment at any location in their area.

Still, the spokesperson said if an individual outlet has sufficient supply, it may decide to offer walk-ins as well as appointments.

Gordon McGregor was one of the lucky ones.
Gordon McGregor was one of the lucky ones.(Francis Ferland/CBC)

"I think that begs the question ... if you're on a wait-list, how do you know when you're going to get called up?" asked Kelly Storie, who said she added her name to every available wait-list once the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine became available at Ontario pharmacies to anyone 40 and over.

I think [Ottawa Public Health] and also the province [have] to do a better job at having some kind of system where people know that there's an equitable distribution of the vaccines available. - Kelly Storie

"If they had extra doses available, you would have thought that you would have been called," Storie said. "I think [Ottawa Public Health] and also the province [have] to do a better job at having some kind of system where people know that there's an equitable distribution of the vaccines available."

The company said anyone on the wait-list for a dose at the College Square location was notified, and many were vaccinated over the weekend.

On Monday, the pharmacy administered 100 doses and is now out of the vaccine, the company said.