“Pharmacies are paying the price”: Pharmacies scramble to meet overwhelming demand for COVID-19 recall

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With eligibility extended to people 18 and older on Monday, pharmacies across Ontario are scrambling to meet the surge in demand for third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

At his Kingston Road pharmacy, Kyro Maseh has been bombarded with callback requests so much that he can’t even pick up the phone.

“The government made it seem like this is the last gadget you need before Christmas,” he said. “The sudden expansion has been extremely hit and miss and untimely due to the fact that most of the employees are taking vacations.”

The province accelerated the rollout of the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for people over 18 just a week after Ontarians over 50 were eligible – meaning more than a million people to Toronto only were allowed to start making appointments on Monday.

Many of those who got a dose on Monday morning did not do so without a fight – mirroring the same rush the province has already seen when booking first and second doses.

A total of 2,792 pharmacies are listed on the province’s reservation website as locations that administer the vaccine. According to a press release from the City of Toronto, more than 500 pharmacies across the city are expected to play a leading role in the rollout of the third dose.

The mayors and presidents of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area plan to work with the province to “get more pharmacies and doctors to offer vaccines,” according to a press release released on Monday after a meeting of the COVID-19 emergency.

Despite the increased recall age, Maseh decided to continue prioritizing people over 50 for the vaccine in his pharmacy. The location, which gave former diplomat Michael Kovrig his first dose of the vaccine after returning to Canada, has also halted symptomatic testing due to understaffing.

“There isn’t a pharmacy that doesn’t need extra staff right now,” Maseh said.

“My mentor, the pharmacist who trained me, passed away on Saturday. He was a chemotherapy patient who was working through his cancer treatments during the pandemic. On Thursday, he had the privilege of hearing our Prime Minister tell him to give of his time during the holidays.

“Do you see the disconnect here?” Pharmacies are paying the price. ”

On Monday, the Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall websites were only adding people to wait lists, with no information when an actual appointment might be available.

Since the vaccine’s deployment began, pharmacies across Ontario have administered more than 5.1 million doses, according to Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.

“Right now there are a lot of challenges with the ability and trying to manage and accommodate the crowd over 18,” he said. “As soon as the announcements were made, people flooded pharmacies with calls and walked in.”

As residents seek a third dose, the industry is also suffering from a labor shortage of pharmacists, technicians and assistants, according to Bates.

There are enough vaccines for Ontarians, Bates said, although Moderna is currently used more frequently due to Pfizer’s shortages in the Canadian market.

“We can reach everyone. There is enough supply. It just takes a little patience and persistence, ”he said. “What stresses the profession is when it feels overwhelmed because there are so many people coming – we are not mass vaccination clinics.

Michael Miranda, who worked as a pharmacist at a Shoppers Drug Mart store in the west end of town for seven years, quit his job last week due to the working conditions he faced.

The breaking point, according to Miranda, was to bring symptomatic tests inside pharmacies, which he considered unsafe.

“It invites people with symptoms of COVID-19 into a pharmacy full of vulnerable people. It is becoming incredibly dangerous, ”he said. “The only way I felt able to make my voice heard was to quit and my colleagues cannot afford to do so. ”

More than 335,000 Torontonians have received a third dose of the vaccine, according to the city’s COVID-19 portal.

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