Astrazeneca jab in short supply
Few Windsor-essex pharmacies currently booking appointments
Only one day after Ontario expanded its COVID-19 vaccine rollout in pharmacies to people age 40 and older, those looking for a dose in Windsor-essex might as well be searching for a needle in a haystack.
The Windsor Star called all 57 participating area pharmacies to see who had doses of the Astrazeneca jab available. As of Wednesday morning, only six said they were still booking appointments.
Forty-eight pharmacies said the supply they did have was spoken for, or that they had been completely out of vaccines for days or weeks. Three pharmacies did not disclose if they had any shots left.
“We had stock on (Monday) morning and since the announcement, I think we booked 180 appointments in an hour and a half,” said Tim Brady, owner of Brady's Drug Store
Before the province announced on Monday it would expand eligibility for the Astrazeneca vaccine, Brady's stores were sitting on those 180 doses, all set to expire at the end of May with no one in the then-eligible 55-plus age group calling for an appointment.
“I think they needed to expand it (the age eligibility),” he said. “We were also expecting more doses of
Astrazeneca. Now all of a sudden there's been a delay in that. It's trying to predict things you can't predict.”
His and all other local independent pharmacies were told they'd be receiving another 300 doses this week, he said. But that was pushed back. Most other participating pharmacies in Windsor-essex are in the same boat, leaving more than 80,000 newly eligible residents age 40 to 54 without an appointment opportunity for at least the next several days.
Brady, who is also vice-chair of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, doesn't know when he'll receive more vaccines. Staff at many other pharmacies across the region told the Star they expected another shipment to come next week, but none of them had been given a date of arrival. One pharmacy worker told the Star they felt they were “in the dark,” while another said, “things are not as streamlined as they ought to be.”
The Ministry of Health — not the local health unit — delivers doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine directly to the pharmacies, often with only one or two days' notice.
That can create a headache for employees, according to Dejana Beatovic, owner of a Shoppers Drug Mart in Amherstburg. She told the Star she can't let her pharmacist take a vacation until she knows when the next batch of COVID -19 vaccines will arrive. In the meanwhile, the pharmacy's phone is ringing off the hook with calls from residents eager for an appointment.
Beatovic's pharmacy received 500 doses in March, as did the other 56 in Windsor-essex who agreed to administer the shot as part of a provincial pilot project. Her Shoppers went through that supply in six days, she said.
Earlier this month, another 100 doses came in and were gone within three days.
“I feel like we have the ability to help the community much more than we are doing right now and it's not even our fault,” she said. “It's very frustrating for the customers. They want to get vaccinated but we don't have any supply and we don't know when we're going to get it.”
Some pharmacies told the Star they had only received the initial 500 doses in March and nothing since. They've been without vaccines for weeks. Others received three shipments and still ran out.
Brady encouraged anyone who can't find an appointment to get on a pharmacy's waiting list, so when pharmacies do receive more doses, they can “schedule getting them into arms as quickly as possible.”
Many independently owned pharmacies appear to be booking appointments and adding people to their wait lists by phone, while Shoppers Drug Mart, Walmart, Rexall and Loblaw pharmacies have online registration systems.
The pharmacies that said they did have vaccines available were Neighbourhood Drug Store LTD. (439 Wyandotte St. E.) in Windsor, two Rexall locations in Windsor at 3840 Howard Ave. and 1215 Ouellette Ave., Central Drug Mart Mart (250 Erie St. S) in Leamington, a Rexall in Lasalle (5881 Malden Rd.) and a Rexall in Amherstburg (71 Sandwich St. S).
A complete list of Windsor-essex pharmacies participating in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is available on the Windsor-essex County Health Unit's website wechu.org. However, the website does not indicate which pharmacies have vaccines available.
The Ministry of Health did not respond to the Star's request for comment ahead of publication.