TORONTO — Ontario pharmacies were bracing Friday for a busy weekend as they prepared to administer thousands of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines set to expire in three days.
Quality checks held up the delivery of thousands of shots well into Thursday, as the province worked to redistribute a stockpile of 45,000 doses expiring on Monday and 10,000 more expiring in June.
Approximately 31,600 doses had been delivered to pharmacies on Thursday, according to the province, with 11,500 doses already administered. The rest of the doses were expected to be delivered by the end of the day Friday.
The head of the Ontario Pharmacy Association said participating pharmacies would work hard over the weekend to avoid wastage, with three full days left to complete the vaccinations.
"Everyone's trying to make this work and they will do what they can to accommodate people," Justin Bates said in an interview.
The province paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month due to an increase in reports of rare but deadly blood clots.
This week, the province started offering it for second shots to people who received the dose between March 10 and March 19 at pharmacies in Toronto, Windsor and Kingston, and at some primary care offices.
Approximately 90,000 people participated in the AstraZeneca pilot between March 10 and March 19. Many eager vaccine recipients reported frustration this week when trying to book second doses at pharmacies that were still waiting on delayed supply.
Of the 325 pharmacies that participated in the pilot, 162 are administering shots this time around, leaving some AstraZeneca recipients hunting down waiting lists at other sites for their second shots.
Officials have said quality checks, which held up deliveries, were needed because storage data for some of the doses was incomplete.
Bates said the quality check process, similar to an audit, is simple but time-consuming.
He said there was inconsistency in the temperature logs collected from the various sites across the province, and it took some time to validate that information to ensure none of the doses had spoiled.
"There's a lot of paperwork and administrative functions behind it, but it really is just that validation of temperature logs," he said.
The delivery delay has put extra pressure on the pharmacists to work through the doses before the clock runs out, and to manage patient and staff scheduling ahead of the vaccination.
"It's put a lot of burden on pharmacists and certainly they're in a precarious position, because they want to help out but they don't want to be blamed for any wastage," Bates said.
It could mean a busy few days ahead at pharmacies, where people can make appointments by calling ahead, joining a waitlist online or walking in to one of the pharmacies listed on the provincial website.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said on Friday that the issue of any potential wasted vaccines is "not clear cut," and stressed the importance of the quality check process.
"I can't give you a hard answer and how many we expect will not be able to go through that quality assurance piece," she said.
"We want to make sure that the doses where we are offering for second doses are checked first, for quality assurance, and we're doing that now."
Bates said the pharmacies are making quick operational decisions to try and reach the Monday goal.
"Nobody wants to see any vaccine wasted, everybody wants to help people. So we'll do what we can, but of course it's not easy when you have three days now," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press