Pharmacies hit with 'tsunami' of demand after eligibility for AstraZeneca doses expanded

Many Victoria pharmacies are seeing a huge boost in interest in the AstraZeneca vaccine since the province expanded eligibility to anyone age 40 and older.

“They jumped on it so fast. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a tsunami hit,” said Andrew Formosa, pharmacy manager at Aaronson’s Compounding ­Pharmacy on Cook Street.

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It was initially slow-going to fill appointments when only those 55 to 65 years old were ­eligible, and in a week they booked just 30 people for the AstraZeneca shot, he said.

When the age limit dropped on Monday, they booked 200 appointments in six hours, ­Formosa said.

Some in the older age group appeared more interested in going through the age-based rollout through public health clinics, he said. The province is now booking appointments for people 63 and over through that program.

At Vital Health ­Pharmacy pharmacy manager Ana ­Baskalovic said uptake was fairly swift when they first started administering ­AstraZeneca, but it dwindled enough that they cancelled a clinic last Sunday due to lack of interest.

“But ever since the age range opened up to include 40 and up, the interest has been ­tremendous,” she said.

They’ve booked appointments for all of their available stock, with 35 spots in a clinic this Saturday filling up in less than three minutes and about 400 people on the wait list.

Those customers had no hesitancy about the vaccine, said Baskalovic, but she has seen ­others who choose not to get AstraZeneca over concerns about a link to rare blood clots.

Vik Bawa, owner of three Fort Royal pharmacies, said they have been busy administering more than 650 doses in 10 days. While Bawa had no shortage of interest from 55- to 65-year-olds, there has been a jump in demand since more people became ­eligible, he said. “The phone is buzzing, buzzing, buzzing.”

The three locations, in Oak Bay, Hillside and Fort Street, have received more than 1,500 emails about appointments in the last three days, and more than 500 calls in one day.

Like Baskalovic, Bawa said those booking appointments aren’t expressing hesitancy about the AstraZeneca ­vaccine, but he has had others who walked into the pharmacy and seemed reluctant when told only AstraZeneca was being ­administered.

Saanich resident Brad ­Niessen jumped at the chance to get an AstraZeneca shot when doses became available through pharmacies. The 54-year-old teacher ­registered at ­several pharmacies, and snagged an appointment on ­Monday at Thrifty Foods in James Bay after seeing Premier John ­Horgan’s tweet about receiving his AstraZeneca vaccine at the pharmacy.

As a teacher, he was happy to follow the advice of public-health officials to get the first vaccine available to him.

“I wasn’t too concerned which one I was getting as long as I was getting something,” he said.

All adults will be eligible to register for the online booking system by Friday, and will be contacted when they are able to book an appointment.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

> Register for age-based vaccination program at ­gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated or phone 1-833-838-2323.

> Pharmacy vaccination program information: ­bcpharmacy.ca

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