Ontario pharmacy COVID-19 vaccine pilot to begin next week with Oxford-AstraZeneca

Published March 4, 2021 at 9:26 pm

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TORONTO — Pharmacies in three Ontario regions, including Toronto, will begin distributing COVID-19 vaccines next week, although the province provided few details Thursday on how the pilot program would work. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said pharmacies will receive doses of the recently approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The province has said that vaccine will be used for residents aged 60 to 64.

“A large number will be delivered through pharmacies because it’s it’s easier to handle,” Elliott said of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

“It will be very helpful as we’re trying to roll out the COVID vaccines as quickly as we can to protect as many people as possible.”

Elliott said Ontario will soon be releasing a revised immunization timeline that accounts for expected shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot and new guidance on extending the interval between doses to four months — both of which are expected to speed up the vaccine rollout.

“We know that people are anxious and we’re anxious to let them know when they will be able to receive the vaccine,” Elliott said. 

The Ontario Pharmacists Association said the vaccination pilot will begin with approximately 380 pharmacies in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor-Essex health units, with the first shots to begin possibly as early as Tuesday. 

“It’s a move in the right direction,” CEO Justin Bates said in an interview Thursday. “We’re more than happy to partner and be a solution, and we’re looking forward to a successful rollout beyond March.”

Bates said pharmacies will use their own booking systems to make vaccine appointments, since a provincewide web portal isn’t set to launch until March 15. 

Vaccines will likely go to people between the ages of 60 and 64, Bates said, although that will be evaluated based on supply.

Sites are expected to be able to administer about 46 shots per day, he said.

The program will eventually scale up as supply increases, Bates said, noting that the pharmacists’ association has about 4,600 sites across the province. 

About 3,200 sites are already experienced with administering flu shots every year, he noted. 

“All Ontarians live within three kilometers of a pharmacy, so that’s our advantage in terms of our footprint,” he said. 

Opposition politicians raised concerns Thursday at the lack of detail released by the government and expressed concern that some people most vulnerable to the illness might fall through the cracks. 

The province had previously announced it would begin vaccinating Ontarians 80 and older in the third week of March, though some local health units have already started offering shots to that age cohort. 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government has not done enough to guarantee that older residents most at risk of death or severe illness from COVID-19 will be vaccinated first, as has been recommended by scientists advising the province on the pandemic. 

“Where’s the assurance that folks who are … between 60 and 64, who are healthy, are not going to get that vaccine ahead of somebody in their 70s,” Horwath said Thursday. 

“Here we are, again, on the cusp of getting the AstraZeneca vaccine and the government has not indicated that they’re prepared to do the right thing.”

Liberal Health Critic John Fraser said the lack of a clear plan is another sign that the government is not ready for the broader rollout. 

“Just because a plan evolves, doesn’t mean you don’t do one or you don’t show it to people, because it gives people confidence,” he said. 

Ontario reported 994 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 10 more deaths linked to the virus. 

The province has administered a total of 784,828 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine so far. 

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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