More than 100 pharmacies in Toronto are yet to receive promised supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association says that the delay could result in some doses expiring before they can be used.
Individuals who received an AstraZeneca vaccine between March 10 and March 19 became eligible to book an appointment for a second dose earlier this week but Ontario Pharmacists Association CEO Justin Bates tells CP24 that most participating pharmacies in Toronto have not actually received their vaccines as of yet, other than select Shoppers Drug Mart locations that have their own distribution network.
He says that the delay is due to a quality assurance process in which each vial of the vaccine is being inspected by public health officials to ensure that they haven’t spoiled while sitting in refrigerators for the last two weeks.
The problem is that the delays come with 31,000 doses of the vaccine set to expire after May 31.
“We were expecting the majority of stores in Toronto, over 100 of them, to receive supplies today and unfortunately we are in a holding pattern and it is really presenting some challenges for pharmacists who are dealing with booking appointments for today and tomorrow knowing it is a very short runway before these doses expire on Monday,” he said. “It is certainly introducing the risk of wastage. Already we have had to cancel appointments that were booked for yesterday because there is uncertainty on what time and if they will arrive.”
Bates said that the approximately 100 Toronto pharmacies slated to receive the vaccines will get an average of 150 doses each, meaning that the delays are affecting a “significant” number of vials.
He said that he is hopeful that the doses will start to arrive at pharmacies tomorrow but doesn’t know that for a fact.
The delays come amid an already turbulent rollout with many people who are now eligible for a second dose of the vaccine complaining about a lack of clarity about how to get an appointment.
In an interview with CTV News Channel earlier on Wednesday, Bates said that only 160 pharmacies in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor will receive doses compared to 325 during the initial pilot project in March.
He said that the discrepancy, which is due to supply, will likely make it hard for some people to book appointments, especially in cases where the pharmacy where they received their first dose hasn’t been allotted vaccine.
“We have about a third of the supply that matches the 90,000 people that did get the vaccine in pharmacies during that nine-day period in March but this isn’t a one-shot deal. People will also be eligible when they come upon their regularly scheduled interval at 12 weeks” he said. “I think people are panicking right now, in part because they are worried if they don’t get it in the next five days they are out of luck. But that is just not the case. We are going to make sure that we manage and accommodate all people that want a second dose.”
The Ford government needed to move up second doses for a small cohort of people after temporarily pausing the use of AstraZeneca due to concerns over a risk of rare but potentially fatal blood clots.
The Ontario government has said that it expects to receive another 254,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in about two weeks’ time.
It has not yet indicated who will be eligible to receive those vaccines.