TORONTO — Thousands of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines expiring next week were still undergoing quality checks in Ontario on Thursday, as pharmacists set to administer the doses expressed frustration over the delay.
A stockpile of 45,000 doses expires Monday, while 10,000 more expire at the end of June. The province said about 5,000 were to be sent out later Thursday, another 12,000 were to be cleared Friday and others were still under review.
A spokeswoman for the health minister said the quality checks were needed because storage data for some of the doses was incomplete.
"No dose will be sent that isn't deemed to be safe," said Alexandra Hilkene.
Ontario stopped giving out first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month after saying it was linked to an increased risk of a rare but serious blood clotting disorder.
The province started offering second shots of the vaccine this week -- at a 10-week dosing interval -- to the first batch of AstraZeneca recipients in order to use up the doses that expire soon.
Ontarians who received the vaccine between March 10 and March 19 in Kingston, Windsor and Toronto are eligible to book second doses -- though just 162 of the original 325 sites are participating this time around.
Approximately 90,000 people participated in the AstraZeneca pilot during that time frame. Many have reported issues and frustration with booking second appointments.
Approximately 26,600 soon-to-expire AstraZeneca doses had been sent out as of Thursday morning, Hilkene said.
The distribution delay largely affected Toronto pharmacies, according to the head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.
Justin Bates said five Toronto sites and those in Kingston and Windsor received doses earlier in the week, but 99 pharmacies in Toronto were still waiting.
Those still set to receive doses were also informed their shipments would be smaller than anticipated, with more possibly coming on Friday, Bates said. Some were forced cancel appoints and change staff schedules, with less time to get through the doses before the end of the day on Monday.
"It is asking a lot," Bates said. "I'm still confident we'll be able to mobilize and make every effort to get those shots in arms. The demand is high, but it is putting them in a tough spot."
Kyro Maseh, owner of a Pharmasave in east Toronto, said Thursday morning that he had ordered 400 doses of the soon-to-expire AstraZeneca shots but still didn't know when he'd receive the shipment.
He had to reschedule patient appointments and beg volunteers to change their schedules as well.
"I am trying to do my part and help so that people could get the optimum protection, but I’m in the face of a gun now and I’m the one having to reschedule and explain to patients and get yelled at,” he said.
The tightened schedule left Maseh mulling whether he and his volunteers would be able to administer all the expected doses before they expire.
Also on Thursday, the top doctor for York Region said the province had indicated it would be shortening the intervals between vaccine doses for all residents aged 80 and older.
Dr. Karim Kurji told a regional council meeting that the health ministry had shared plans to shorten the dose interval for that age group starting next week, with the intention of later doing the same for those 70 and older.
Vaccine doses are currently being administered four months apart, with some exceptions for Indigenous residents, those with specific health conditions and frontline health-care workers.
Kurji said the health unit was working through the logistics of implementing the change in a way that would cause minimal confusion.
Ontario reported 1,135 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 19 more deaths linked to the virus. The data was based on more than 37,700 completed tests.
The Ministry of Health reported 1,072 hospitalizations in Ontario, including 650 patients are in intensive care and 452 are on a ventilator.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2021.
- With files from Liam Casey
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press