More than one million people in Toronto alone were allowed to begin booking third dose appointments Monday and drug stores play a key role.
With eligibility expanded Monday to those 18 years and older, Ontario’s pharmacies are scrambling to meet the surge in demand for third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
At his Kingston Road pharmacy, Kyro Maseh has been so bombarded with booster requests he isn’t even able to pick up the phone anymore.
“The government made it seem like the newest gadget you need to get before Christmas,” he said. “The sudden expansion was extremely haphazard and ill-timed due to the fact that most employees are taking vacations.”
The province accelerated the rollout of the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to those over 18 only one week after Ontarians over 50 were eligible — meaning more than one million people in Toronto alone were allowed to begin booking appointments Monday.
Many who did secure a dose Monday morning didn’t do so without a fight — mirroring the same scramble the province has already seen during first and second dose bookings.
A total of 2,792 pharmacies are listed on the province’s booking website as locations that administer the vaccine. According to a city of Toronto press release, more than 500 pharmacies across the city are expected to play a prominent role in the third dose rollout.
Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area mayors and chairs plan to work with the province to “incentivize more pharmacies and doctors to offer vaccinations,” according to a press release that came out of an emergency COVID-19 meeting Monday.
Despite the booster age expansion, Maseh has decided to continue prioritizing those over 50 for the shot at his pharmacy. The location, which gave former diplomat Michael Kovrig his first dose of the vaccine after he arrived back home in Canada, has also halted symptomatic testing because of staff shortages.
“There isn’t a pharmacy that doesn’t need extra staff at this time,” said Maseh.
“My mentor, the pharmacist that trained me, died on Saturday. He was a chemotherapy patient that was working through his cancer treatments during the pandemic. On Thursday, he had the privilege of hearing our premier telling him to volunteer his time during the holiday.
“Do you see the disconnect here? Pharmacies are bearing the brunt.”
On Monday, Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall websites were both only adding people to wait-lists — with no information given when an actual appointment might be available.
Since the beginning of the vaccine rollout, Ontario pharmacies have administered more than 5.1 million doses, according to Justin Bates, CEO of Ontario’s Pharmacist Association.
“Right now, there’s a lot of challenges with capacity and trying to manage and accommodate the 18-plus crowd,” he said. “As soon as the announcements were made people were flooding pharmacies with calls and walking in.”
While residents hunt for a third dose, the industry is also suffering from a labour shortage of pharmacists, technicians and assistants, according to Bates.
There is enough vaccine supply for Ontarians, said Bates, though Moderna is currently being used more frequently due to Pfizer shortages on the Canadian market.
“We can get to everybody. There’s enough supply. It just takes some patience and perseverance,” he said. “What stresses out the profession is when they feel overwhelmed because there are so many people coming — we’re not mass immunization clinics.”
Michael Miranda, who was employed as a pharmacist at a Shoppers Drug Mart in the west end of the city for seven years, quit his job last week because of the work conditions he faced.
The breaking point, according to Miranda, was bringing symptomatic testing inside pharmacies, which he felt was unsafe.
“This is inviting people with COVID-19 symptoms into a pharmacy that is full of vulnerable people. It becomes unthinkably dangerous,” he said. “The only way I felt able to get my voice out there was to quit and my colleagues can’t afford to do that.”
More than 335,000 Torontonians have received a third dose of the vaccine, according to the city’s COVID-19 portal.
Article From: The Star
Author: Irelyne Lavery