Pharmacists concerned about vaccine supply as 2nd dose timeline moved up

·3 min read
A woman gets a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in Toronto on March 17, 2021. Some Ottawa pharmacists say they may not be able to keep up with demand as the province further expands second-dose eligibility on Monday. (Sam Nar/CBC - image credit)
A woman gets a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in Toronto on March 17, 2021. Some Ottawa pharmacists say they may not be able to keep up with demand as the province further expands second-dose eligibility on Monday. (Sam Nar/CBC - image credit)

Some Ottawa pharmacies say there's not enough COVID-19 vaccine supply to keep up with demand as the province expands the eligibility for second doses ahead of schedule.

Starting Monday, Ontarians aged 70 and older, as well as those who got a first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines on or before April 18, can book an appointment for a second dose.

That's one week earlier than planned for those 70 and above, and three weeks earlier for those who got Pfizer or Moderna before mid-April.

It's put pharmacies like ProMed in Ottawa's south end in a difficult position.

"We don't have enough supplies to accommodate a second dose without first finishing the first dose," said manager and pharmacist Lubna Fawaz.

Fawaz said it's been an administrative nightmare trying to schedule and then reschedule patients when vaccines don't come in on time.

She said her clinic only received more doses on Friday, with the last shipment before that on May 25.

"We're hoping that it's going to get better or at least be consistent ... there [have] been some weeks we haven't [gotten any]," Fawaz said.

Ontario wide problem says association

Keeping up with the need for first and now second doses is causing a province-wide problem, said Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.

"The unpredictability of the supply coming in has always been, I think, our biggest challenge in trying to get the vaccine out to as many people as possible," Bates said.

Many people are now

Bates said many people are now vaccine shopping, and some who are eligible to move their second dose up are choosing to get it at a pharmacy — even though they may have received their first shot elsewhere.

While the association agrees with expanding eligibility, Bates said it needs to be timed better with the existing supply and communicated to pharmacies earlier so they can handle questions from the public.

"With pharmacies receiving approximately 150 doses per week per pharmacy, that demand is going to outpace what supply we have. So we are working with the ministry of health to ramp up throughout June to increase those shipments." Bates said.

Justin Bates, the CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, says he agrees with expanded eligibility, but those decisions need to be based on vaccine supply.
Justin Bates, the CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, says he agrees with expanded eligibility, but those decisions need to be based on vaccine supply.(Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

Canada recently approved the mixing of vaccines for second doses. While Ontario has rolled out plans to allow for that change, Bates said supply issues could continue to burden pharmacies if people who got a first dose of AstraZeneca-Oxford switch to an mRNA vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna.

"Our ideal scenario would be a flexible, more routine ordering system whereby we can order the exact amount," said Bates.

"As opposed to auto shipments every week to meet the appointments that the pharmacy has."

More supply coming, says province

In a statement, Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said that while public health units are "responsible for managing vaccines in their region," the province expects to receive 4.7 million doses of Pfizer in June and approximately 3.54 million doses in July.

That would add to the 193,000 doses of Moderna and 254,000 doses of AztraZeneca already in hand.

"Dependent on expected supply from the federal government, we will be increasing allocations for pharmacies next week and beyond," Hilkene said.

Some 284,000 doses of Moderna and Pfizer are expected to be delivered to Ontario's pharmacies next week alone, Hilkene added.

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