Some Ontario pharmacies could be offering COVID-19 vaccines as early as next week as part of a provincial pilot program rolling out in three regions.
Toronto, Kingston and Windsor-Essex are the three areas involved in the project, according to Justin Bates, the CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA).
It’s not known yet how many doses would be assigned to pharmacies or how many will be participating. Bates said a comprehensive list of participating stores will be finalized by Monday.
Tentatively, however, the plan is for the selected pharmacies to use the newly approved AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Bates said the three regions were chosen in consultation with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
“The three public health units were very much advanced in their vaccination plans as it related to determining what role pharmacies would play in those regions,” he said.
“But we’re planning to scale up and we’ll be adding more stores. We want all pharmacies to be able to participate once the vaccine is available.”
Vaccine expires at the end of March, says OPA
The OPA is currently working on the details of the plan, said Bates, and are aiming to distribute vaccines across 380 stores in total. However, timing is a factor for the supply as the first shipment of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is set to expire at the end of this month.
“We have a very short window to operationalise this and get all of those vaccines into arms, and that’s part of the reason why we’re launching next week,” said Bates. “We’re doing it on a limited basis because that’ll give us enough vaccine for those 380 stores to get it out of their pharmacies by the end of the month.”
Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health for Windsor and Essex County, said the additional vaccines are “good news.”
“This means more protection. More vaccines in our community. We really want people to use that opportunity to get vaccinated,” said Ahmed.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations isn’t recommending the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for those 65 and older, and those who are younger will be the target group for these doses. Health Canada has authorized it to be used in adults of all ages.
OPA confirmed that this month’s AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines will be used on people between the ages of 60 and 64.
“Then [we] will lower the thresholds — probably in increments of five years — in intervals, when we get into April and we have more supply,” Bates said. “It’s going to go sequentially.”
This means following the vaccination of people in the cohort of 60 and 64, the next set of people to be vaccinated would be those between of ages of 55 and 59 years and so forth.
“I’m super excited,’ says Essex, Ont. pharmacist
The pilot project is what some pharmacists, including Tim Brady, the owner of Brady’s Drug Stores, in Essex, Ont. have been pushing for.
While the OPA is finalizing a list of locations for this project, Brady is hopeful his pharmacies will make the cut.
“We know it’s happening, it’s developing and growing rapidly and we’re trying to stay on top of it, but I know everybody will step up and do the best we can to make sure people get the injections they need,” he said.
“I’m super excited. We’ve been waiting for this. The pharmacists of Ontario and that of Essex County are ready to put needles in arms and get the people of Essex County back to a normal life again.”
Brady said the move to allow pharmacists to vaccinate is a good one, given they are equipped for mass vaccinations.
“Even over this COVID year, the Ontario pharmacists are giving over a million injections a year for the flu vaccine. So this is just a natural extension of that,” he said.
Brady said the most challenging part for him is the logistics of the plan and he expects his pharmacy to be busy if it’s part of the project. He said his pharmacy will likely follow an appointment system.
Brady urges people to stay patient as not all pharmacies will have the vaccine yet.
“I want everyone to stay calm. Every pharmacy will inevitably have it,” he said.