As the province lowered the vaccination threshold this week to those over the age of 75, some pharmacies were still scrambling to vaccinate those over 80.
Saint John pharmacist Ryan Kennedy said he’s still trying to reach all of the 85-and-ups.
Kennedy said his University Avenue Jean Coutu didn’t receive nearly enough doses last week. But with double that number arriving this week, he’s hopeful it will help make a dent in the backlog.
In an interview, Kennedy said he’s working with the province on next week’s numbers and hopes to make further progress to reach everyone who’s eligible.
“If I get a good allocation next week, I should be able to make a real nice dent in that 75-plus range,” he said.
Kennedy is not alone. Several other pharmacies around the province were left with a backlog of eligible customers and no vaccines for them.
The executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists Association said his members have no control over the number of doses they get.
Jake Reid said Public Health officials determine how much each of the pharmacies will receive.
He said it’s only the second week of the vaccination rollout at pharmacies, and officials are still working out the kinks.
At Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province is distributing all available doses.
“We can only put out the vaccine we receive, and the vaccine is received one day, it is out for distribution to pharmacies or the RHAs [regional health authorities] the next day,” she said.
“We can only put out what we get.”
She said the province is now receiving regular shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — 24,500 doses each week — and that should help beef up the supply.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the goal is to have everyone fully vaccinated by mid-August.
Province determines dosage distribution
Reid said the province’s distribution numbers were based on a survey of the more than 200 pharmacies participating in the vaccination program. Each was asked to provide the number of customers within each age bracket.
Public Health then delivers a portion of the available doses to each of the pharmacies for distribution.
Most pharmacies are asking people to either book online or phone to make an appointment, explained Reid.
Ideally, he said, people are asked to call their own pharmacy. But in cases where pharmacies run out of doses, they can phone around to other pharmacies to see who has shots available.
Reid also said that pharmacies across the province are inundated with phone calls — many from people who are not currently on the list of those eligible for vaccinations. People are calling with general inquiries or specific questions about when they’ll be eligible for their shot.
He said it’s important for pharmacy phone lines to be reserved for those who are currently eligible.
Kennedy said he and staff have been overwhelmed by the number of calls.
Unlike many other pharmacies, his Jean Coutu is calling regular customers to make appointments, rather than taking incoming appointment requests. He said the pharmacy has already reached out to all the 85-and-up group to schedule appointments, and it’s moving down the list one year at a time.
“We’re just making our way down the list that way,” Kennedy said.
“My concern would be if we went on a first-come, first-served basis, some of our seniors that may not be as technologically savvy … could get left behind.”
He said his team thought the most fair approach would be to reach out directly and book appointments on a descending-age-group basis.
On the pharmacy’s Facebook page, Kennedy asked customers to “be patient and trust the process.”
Plenty to go around
But not all pharmacies were left short.
Greg MacFarlane of Ryan’s Pharmacy in Nackawic said he’s pleased with the number of doses he’s been given — 30 Moderna last week and 120 Pfizer this week.
He said he’s getting through the 80- and 85-age groups “quite nicely.”
MacFarlane said they’re now taking booking for those 75 and up after the province added the group to the eligibility list on Wednesday.
Since it’s only the second week of the rollout, MacFarlane encouraged New Brunswickers to be patient and “let the process evolve.”
“It’s going to be a long road.”