What happened to my vaccination request? The 55+ cohort wants to know

·3 min read
A post from Twitter account Vaccine Hunters Canada led to a mad dash to this Loblaws pharmacy on April 26. Some Ontarians still waiting for a pharmacy appointment one month after signing up say scenes like this are simply unfair. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)
A post from Twitter account Vaccine Hunters Canada led to a mad dash to this Loblaws pharmacy on April 26. Some Ontarians still waiting for a pharmacy appointment one month after signing up say scenes like this are simply unfair. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)

On the first day he became eligible, 56-year-old Andrew Boulanger registered for a COVID-19 vaccine, using Shoppers Drug Mart's pharmacy booking system.

That was a month ago, and while the Ottawa resident has since been able to get vaccinated elsewhere, he says Shoppers never contacted him.

"I just think it got lost," said Boulanger. "I don't think I'll ever get an appointment from them."

He's not the only one wondering what's going on with the vaccine rollout. CBC Ottawa has received feedback from hundreds of residents who've registered for vaccines, through multiple pharmacies, and haven't heard back about appointments.

Like Boulanger, some of those who've waited the longest are among the 55 and over cohort, who began registering en masse the first week they became eligible for the pharmacy program on April 1st.

Two weeks later, the shot became available to those 40 and older, and this week the province allowed pharmacies to also hold walk-in clinics.

The system has not been perfect. - Catherine Thomas, Loblaw spokesperson

"We were pretty frustrated when we saw it open up to a younger age group," said 56-year-old Tanis Stoliar, who also signed herself and husband up as soon as she could.

Since mid-March, Ontario pharmacists have poked some 450,000 arms, according to the Ontario Pharmacists Association. Loblaw, which owns several pharmacies, including Shoppers — the largest chain in the province — told CBC it has sent out some 300,000 invitations.

Stoliar and Boulanger had both signed up with Shoppers, and neither understands how the registration system could allow so many people to rush ahead of them in the queue.

"The system has not been perfect," said Catherine Thomas, a spokesperson for Loblaw, in an email to CBC.

"This is not a challenge unique to us. The demand for all online registries has been massive, with waiting lists that far exceed available doses," she wrote.

CBC asked how appointments for those in their 40s could begin while people 55 and up were still waiting, but the company did not offer an explanation.

Pharmacist Jordan Clark vaccinates a client at the Westboro Shoppers Drugmart.
Pharmacist Jordan Clark vaccinates a client at the Westboro Shoppers Drugmart.(Twitter )

'Not sure what happened'

Customers concerned about the fate of their appointments should connect directly with the pharmacy, said Jordan Clark, who owns Westboro Shoppers in Ottawa.

"Those [bookings] should have been sent out in order. And I'm not sure what happened behind the scenes," said Clark, noting most of his bookings come from the online system.

"We were seeing people able to book online, and then we did accept some walk-ins as well as some people that either phoned or came into the store who had their booking reference."

Loblaw said anyone still on the list has not been forgotten and will eventually be contacted, but vaccine supply has been an ongoing issue.

Most pharmacies in Ontario will run out of their remaining supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine this weekend, according to the pharmacists association, and the province does not know when the next shipment is on its way.

Calls for investigation

Meanwhile, those over 55 are now able to sign up for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines through the provincial rollout plan.

Stoliar registered for that shot Friday, the first day it became available, and already has an appointment for her and her husband next week.

As for Boulanger, he signed up with another drugstore company last week and got a shot within a couple of days.

With the pharmacies expected to be an important part of the COVID-19 vaccination plan for months, perhaps years to come, Boulanger would like Shoppers to investigate and tell the public why some people who registered a month ago still haven't been contacted.

"They got to get it right," said Boulanger. "It's a bad process, it wasn't very transparent, and they're not being transparent now."