Pharmacies were given short notice about Wednesday’s rollout of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Lower Mainland for those aged 55 to 65, says the president of the British Columbia Pharmacy Association.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province had to act quickly after concerns about rare blood clots prompted the National Advisory Committee on Immunization on Monday to pause the use of the vaccine for anyone under 55.
Annette Robinson said pharmacists had anticipated being asked to participate in the government’s vaccination program, but were told about Wednesday’s launch the day before.
“We were asked to step up in a quick way and we’ve certainly done that,” she said Wednesday.
The province had 13,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and it needed to find a way to use them, quickly and safely, Dix said at a news conference.
“That news came essentially on Monday,” he said. “By Tuesday we had a plan in place. On Wednesday it started to be delivered. I think that’s pretty impressive.”
Dix said B.C. is expecting to receive 43,000 more AstraZeneca doses on Friday from the federal government.
Robinson said the current supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine will likely be administered within a few days.
The new avenue to hurry out vaccines comes as the province recorded its highest daily COVID-19 case count yet at 1,013 cases after new restrictions were introduced this week on restaurants, gyms and religious services.
Wednesday’s total also lifts B.C.’s case count to 100,048. There has been three more deaths for a total of 1,458 since the pandemic began.
“Help us to push our curve back down again. Do this by staying small, staying outside and staying with your same group of close contacts. This is what will get us closer to putting COVID-19 behind us,” said the joint statement released by Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The government announced its pivot on the AstraZeneca vaccine to the 55-to-65 age group on Tuesday afternoon through a partnership with Immunize B.C. and the pharmacists.
Participating pharmacies reported being overwhelmed Wednesday by people wanting to book AstraZeneca vaccination appointments, Robinson said.
She suggested people consult the association’s website or the websites of pharmacies administering the vaccines for up-to-date information about booking appointments.
“Clearly, there is a lot of pent-up demand,” she said.
Robinson said the pharmacies are prepared and have experience with flu shots, including the most recent campaign where one million people were vaccinated.
London Drugs issued a statement Wednesday saying when the B.C. government announced the vaccines would be available at pharmacies, their phones “began ringing off the hook.”
It said three Lower Mainland pharmacies that were given vaccines began taking down names and contact information on the understanding that “the first priority was to ensure the most important thing was to make sure all doses were going into people’s arms in the next 48 hours, before they would expire.”
The Opposition Liberals say in a statement the plan has left patients and pharmacies concerned and confused about where and when the vaccines will be available.
“Now the 55 to 65 age cohort in the Lower Mainland is left wondering what happened after feeling a sense of hope about the possibilities of being vaccinated,” says interim leader Shirley Bond.
Henry said in a news release that the vaccine remains highly effective and its benefits for those over 55 far outweigh the risks of COVID-19 infection.
The Lower Mainland, where the vaccines are being offered, is also the highest transmission area, Dix said.
British Columbia’s immunization plan is running on two tracks, with both an age-based program and another for front-line workers.
Vaccines are currently available for anyone 73 and older, Indigenous people over 18 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Front-line workers who were to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine remain a priority and will get their shots as more vaccines arrive, Dix and Henry said in the joint statement.
“Right now, we are waiting on Health Canada’s recommendations to determine what adjustments we may need to make to this immunization stream, as a result of the safety signal for those under 55.”
The province remains on schedule to administer a COVID-19 vaccine dose to everyone who is eligible and wants one before Canada Day, the statement said.