A “perfect storm” of factors has led to some difficulty to secure doses, but a top pharmacist expects that will soon pass.
The challenge of ramping up Ontario’s third dose campaign has become even harder with vaccinators in public health settings needing time off because they have contracted COVID-19 or are experiencing burnout.
A “perfect storm” of factors has made sourcing booster appointments more difficult for Ontarians, while the capacity to provide doses sags under the weight of an Omicron-driven staffing shortage, two pharmacists told the Star.
According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 4,056,554 people had received a third dose in Ontario as of Monday at 8 p.m.
Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA), said a shortage of labour and burnout among pharmacists is impacting the number of people being vaccinated.
“It’s happening across the system, which is creating shortages,” he said.
Meanwhile, interruptions in the delivery of Pfizer doses means pharmacies are shifting to the Moderna mRNA vaccine “almost exclusively,” Bates said. Pfizer doses are being prioritized for those under age 30 due to the rare risk of myocarditis in young adults following a Moderna vaccine.
While the benefit of receiving the vaccine outweighs the risk of side effects, there is some vaccine hesitancy among older populations who are being offered the Moderna vaccine, Bates explained.
“We are still seeing vaccine hesitancy, people walking away from appointments because they don’t want Moderna,” Bates said, adding the perception of a difference between the two mRNA brands is something pharmacists “still have to combat.”
Bates stressed both vaccines are safe and effective, as is mixing the vaccines. The protection offered by the vaccine is better than waiting for a preferred brand, he said.
Front-line pharmacist Kyro Maseh, who runs Lawlor Pharmacy in the city’s east end, agreed. Most side effects can be well-managed with Tylenol or Advil, he said. Moderna is “safe, it’s effective,” Maseh said. “It’s what you need right now, not later.”
Maseh echoed many of the concerns raised by Bates and added opening booster appointments for everyone over age 18 led to a “huge influx” in demand from people looking for a third dose.
Staffing shortages are weighing heavily on pharmacies as team members test positive for the virus and must isolate. The result, Maseh said, is that pharmacies can’t serve as many people as would be typical.
Another issue, Maseh said, is that the province’s booking portal does not offer a cohesive look at all available appointments. Users looking for appointments at nearby pharmacies are directed to each pharmacy’s contact info, Maseh pointed out, meaning users have to figure out multiple booking platforms. He suggested the implementation of a unified booking system, which could help the line of people waiting for appointments “move a lot quicker.”
In a statement, Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health, said the province has “ample vaccine supply” and is working to increase capacity for appointments.
“As we continue to increase our daily capacity, individual public health units are actively working to add appointments to the booking system on an ongoing basis. Public health units will continue to keep the public informed as more appointments go live on the provincial booking system,” Hilkene wrote.
Those struggling to find available doses should see some relief in the weeks ahead, said Bates. He predicts a rebound in capacity within the next two weeks, as staff shortages ease and the peak of demand for boosters wanes.
A spokesperson for Walmart confirmed to the Star that while the big-box chain is not seeing a supply shortage, demand is high for boosters. “As vaccines become available, our pharmacies add online appointment availabilities and notify customers,” the spokesperson said.
Similarly, a spokesperson for Loblaws confirmed there is no shortage of doses at the company’s locations.
Article From: The Star
Author: Jenna Moon