Some Kelowna, B.C., pharmacies are getting ready in case they are among the locations chosen to provide AstraZeneca vaccines.
Pharmacies in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions have been immunizing people aged 55 to 65 with AstraZeneca vaccines since Wednesday.
On Saturday, B.C.’s provincial government announced it will be expanding the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout beyond the Lower Mainland, where transmission rates are highest, to other parts of the province.
The province said the vaccines are expected to be available in Kelowna, Vernon, and Kamloops “by the end of next week.”
Pharmacist Sahil Ahuja with Two Nice Guys Pharmacy in Kelowna’s Rutland neighbourhood is pleased to see pharmacists being included in the rollout.
“Pharmacies did like a million flu shots in B.C. this last flu shot season so I think it’s an amazing way to get this vaccine to more patients,” said Ahuja.
Derek Bonilla, the pharmacy manager for the Dyck’s Pharmacists location in Kelowna’s Glenmore neighbourhood, said pharmacies are preparing scheduling software and staffing for the vaccine deployment.
Both pharmacies say they are interested in being among the pharmacies that distribute the shots in Kelowna.
“We are kind of always prepared. Vaccinations [are] something that’s normal for us. [We] always have enough supplies on hand for vaccinations,” Ahuja said.
However, details of the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout in the Okanagan are still being determined.
The BC Pharmacy Association said that planning for the expanded distribution of COVID-19 vaccines at pharmacies will start early this week and include details “like the number of doses and delivery dates to these new communities.”
“That’s the frustrating thing, … we are getting communications from the BC Pharmacy Association, but we don’t know if or when the vaccine will get here. We don’t know how much we will have,” said Bonilla.
“Certainly we are trying to think ahead and come up with these protocols to help, but not a lot of information is being given.
Ahuja said while he would like more information, he believes most pharmacies are ready to go quickly if needed.
“I try to come from an empathetic standpoint of I trust that our leaders in government, leaders in advocacy and pharmacy, everyone’s trying their best…and that they will get us the information when they can,” Ahuja said.
“If you have more time you can plan accordingly, and it would be ideal to have lead time, but I also understand it is a fluid situation. We can step up whenever we are asked to.”
The BC Pharmacy Association said it will be contacting pharmacies directly this week to ask if they are interested in participating and the province said more details will be provided publically this week.
“The response from eligible patients has been overwhelming. Many pharmacies quickly became fully booked,” the BC Pharmacy Association said.
The Lower Mainland AstraZeneca pharmacy vaccine program for that select age group began after a change in the recommended use of the vaccine in Canada.
“The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended a pause in the use of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine in all people under 55 years of age in Canada until more information is available on the rare events of blood clots seen in some countries in Europe,” B.C.’s Minister of Health said in a statement announcing the rollout of the pharmacy vaccine program in the Lower Mainland last week.
“There is now an opportunity to use AstraZeneca doses available in B.C. to focus on those whose risk of COVID-19 is higher and to give them protection sooner.”
The expanded rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine to provincial pharmacies is also expected to include locations in Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Nanaimo, Parksville, Prince George, Quesnel, Terrace, and Victoria.