Island pharmacies begin administering AstraZeneca doses

Some Island pharmacies have begun to administer AstraZeneca vaccines to people ages 55 to 65.

On Friday, the B.C. Pharmacy Association included locations on the Island in an updated list of pharmacies participating in the rollout of AstraZeneca doses, previously limited to the Lower Mainland.

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Pharmacies in Greater Victoria, Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Sooke have been added to the list. A timeline for the rollout will vary by pharmacy and depends on when doses are received, said Michael Mui, spokesperson for the B.C. Pharmacy Association.

At the Medicine Shoppe at Fort Street and Foul Bay Road, pharmacist Rania Gomaa began administering jabs of AstraZeneca Friday morning after receiving a shipment of 200 doses around 10 a.m.

The pharmacy received confirmation of the shipment Thursday evening, and started booking appointments Friday morning, said Gomaa, who is also the pharmacy manager. “We have lots of people excited to have it,” she said.

People ages 55 to 65 hoping to get a shot can call the pharmacy for an appointment, but Gomaa said they’re working on creating an online booking ­system.

At Heart Pharmacy in Fairfield Plaza, pharmacy manager Mario Bruno was waiting for a first ­shipment on Friday. The pharmacy is also working on an online appointment-booking system and is preparing to start providing immunizations on Tuesday, he said.

Three other Heart Pharmacy locations, in Cadboro Bay, Saanich and Langford, expected to receive vaccine doses Friday, said Linda ­Gutenberg, pharmacy manager for the Heart Pharmacy in Shelbourne Plaza.

Each pharmacy plans to start vaccinating people next week, but start dates and schedules will vary by location.

Anyone interested in getting a shot can sign up on the Heart Pharmacy website (heartpharmacy.com/covid-vaccination) to be put on a waiting list for appointments.

The pharmacies learned at 4 p.m. Thursday that they would receive AstraZeneca doses, making it difficult to schedule staff and plan immunization appointments, Gutenberg said.

“It’s all going to be very much a fluid, very-last-minute process. We hope that that doesn’t continue. Because, you know, getting people from the waitlist to a booked appointment will literally happen this weekend,” she said.

Gutenberg asked people to use the website and avoid calling stores, so pharmacists can focus on administering jabs.

The pharmacies participating in the AstraZeneca rollout include 34 locations in Greater Victoria, eight in Nanaimo, three in Parksville, one in Qualicum Beach and one in Sooke, according to the B.C. Pharmacy Association’s list.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is being offered to people ages 55 to 65, since use of the vaccine in younger people has been paused over concerns it could be linked to rare blood clots. The clots have been seen primarily in women under 55 four to 16 days after vaccination.

The European Medicines Agency on March 18 estimated chances of the adverse reaction at one in a million, but the Paul-Ehrlich Institut in Germany pegged it at one in 100,000.

As AstraZeneca vaccines are distributed to Island pharmacies, the health authority has been ramping up the average number of daily doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines administered through the province’s age-based immunization program.

Island Health has administered about 5,000 doses per day this week, compared to about 2,900 per day in early March, said medical health officer Dr. Mike Benusic.

As of Thursday evening, 160,717 people in the region, or 22 per cent of the adult population, had received at least one dose, he said, and Island Health expects to have vaccinated 25 per cent of the adult population by the middle of next week.

“That’s pretty remarkable to think that, pretty soon, one in four adults within Island Health will have been vaccinated,” Benusic said.

The health authority is not seeing much vaccine hesitancy in those eligible to receive jabs, he said. While some have expressed concern about vaccine clinics appearing empty, Benusic said the only bottleneck in the system is the supply of vaccines.

“The vaccines that we provide every week are basically the vaccines that we have. We are certainly not sitting on any vaccines,” he said.

Vaccine clinics are also held in large spaces that allow for physical distancing and are designed for the highest capacity, which may make them appear quiet, Benusic said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Cindy Harnett

• A list of pharmacies on the Island providing AstraZeneca vaccines can be found here: bcpharmacy.ca/resource-centre/covid-19/vaccination-locations

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