'We are running out of runway:' Nearly 100 Toronto pharmacies to receive promised AstraZeneca vaccines today
Published Thursday, May 27, 2021 11:01AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 27, 2021 1:09PM EDT
Nearly 100 Toronto pharmacies will receive limited supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine today, just four days ahead of their expiry.
Individuals who received their first dose of the vaccine between March 10 and March 19 were made eligible to receive an early second dose on Tuesday as the province scrambled to use up 31,000 doses that are set to expire on May 31.
The problem is that the delivery of the vaccine to most pharmacies has been delayed due to a quality assurance process that has been put in place to ensure the vials didn’t spoil while sitting in refrigerators at pharmacies across Ontario over the last two weeks.
On Thursday morning, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health confirmed that 4,500 doses have already went through the quality control process and were delivered to Toronto pharmacies this morning. The spokesperson said that another 12,000 doses are expected to be delivered sometime today. A total of 13,000 doses are still undergoing the quality assurance process and their exact delivery date remains unclear.
“When Health Canada asked us to put a pause on distributing the AstraZeneca, it meant that those doses were in pharmacies all across Ontario. Because we are offering the shortened dose only in three regions, Kingston, Windsor and Toronto, what it meant is we had to have those doses redistributed and confirmed that they were still of the highest quality so that we could offer them to people,” Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told CP24. “The majority have been distributed, but there is a confirmation that is happening right now to make sure that the remaining AstraZeneca that does need to be distributed is of the highest quality. When that happens, that will be immediately distributed as soon as possible.”
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 rollout has been turbulent with many people taking to social media to complain about a lack of clarity about how to get an appointment and others saying that they were unable to book appointments after calling upwards of a dozen pharmacies.
Speaking with CP24, Jones said that the remaining does of AstraZeneca still undergoing the quality assurance process are likely to be shipped to pharmacies by tomorrow.
Pharmacists, however, are expressing concerns that the delays could lead to some doses expiring before they can be used.
“Our pharmacists are in a very awkward position because they've got lots of people coming in and they're asking about booking appointments and getting the vaccine, which is completely understandable. However, they have no information to provide the people, and they don't know when they're going to get these vaccines,” Ontario Pharmacists Association CEO Justin Bates told CP24 during an interview on Thursday morning. “They can't plan resources appropriately in terms of bringing in extra staff to help and they're going to have to really move mountains to be able to get these vaccines in arms between now and Monday. It's only four days.”
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said that the quality assurance process is standard procedure and is necessary “to ensure maximum safety and efficacy of every single dose.”
But Bates said that the province needs to “ move quicker” and put more resources behind it as some pharmacies are “running out of runway” to get shots in arms.
“Pharmacists across the province, particularly in Toronto are going to do everything they can to accommodate people and to make this work because we have a shared objective of not wasting any doses,” he said Thursday. “You know I can't guarantee that doses won’t be wasted based on the timelines but we are committed to doing this very quickly. We are going to mobilize and we'll get the shots in arms.”
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.