Alberta plans to have more than 500 pharmacies taking bookings for COVID-19 vaccinations by early April, as it works to expand immunization access across the province.
Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that, provided consistent supply comes from the federal government, Alberta still expects to offer a shot to all adult residents who want one by the end of June, thanks in great part to pharmacies being part of the program.
Since March 1, the number of pharmacy locations offering Pfizer and Moderna vaccine has grown 154 per cent, Kenney said, to now more than 259 in 107 communities.
“More than 66,000 doses will likely delivered at Alberta pharmacies this week alone,” he said.
Alberta is currently in Phase 2A of its vaccine rollout, which includes everyone 65 and older, as well as First Nations, Métis and Inuit born 1971 or earlier.
Kenney asked that those in communities that don’t yet have a pharmacy offering vaccine appointments to be patient, adding the province is expanding its program as quickly as it can, depending on supply.
He stressed Alberta needs more doses, and said so far, the doses pharmacies have received “are not easy to handle,” as they need cold storage and to be handled specifically every step of the way.
“We know the interest and the demand is there in cities and town all over the province, but the speed of our vaccination rollout depends wholly on the amount of vaccines that we receive from the government of Canada,” Kenney said.
“We unfortunately continue to be let down on that front.”
Many pharmacies were forced to cancel immunization appointments this week, after a plane carrying a shipment of Moderna vaccine was grounded.
Kenney said they’ve also learned from the federal government that the Moderna shipment expected this week is being spread over two weeks, cutting the supply in half, which will lead to more cancellations.
When asked about Kenney’s claims, the federal government’s ministery of public services and procurement referred to the minister’s statement earlier in the week.
Anita Anand tweeted that Canada is receiving all 846,000 doses of Moderna next week.
“There is no reduction,” her tweet read. “That’s totalling just over two-million Moderna doses by the end of this quarter, as planned.”
Donna-Lee Colney and her husband were among those who had their COVID-19 vaccine appointments cancelled.
Colney said as soon as she was eligible to book her vaccine appointment on March 15, she called a number of pharmacies and finally booked appointments for herself and her husband for March 27. However, she received a disappointing phone call on Wednesday evening.
“Last night I got a phone call from the pharmacy saying that their vaccine had been delayed and they were cancelling over 600 appointments,” Colney said Thursday morning.
“We were excited that we could get our vaccines. We wanted this. We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And then last night to find out, no we’re not getting them — it was devastating.”
Colney managed to get through to 811 and booked an appointment for her husband on Thursday. She rebooked her own appointment for next week, but said the uncertainty around the vaccine rollout is frustrating.
“It’s just so unorganized and frustrating,” she said.
“I want to know what is going on with this. Is my appointment next week going to be cancelled? I don’t know.
“It’s just very frustrating, you know? We want to get on with our lives. We’ve done everything that they have asked us to do. We’ve isolated ourselves, we wear masks… It’s hard. It’s hard on everybody living like this.”
According to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, it’s hoped the number of pharmacies Albertans can get their shots from will eventually exceed 1,300. He said officials are working hard to expand into communities like Medicine Hat, Ponoka and Grande Prairie.
“That’s just pharmacies. Community physicians will start offering vaccines next month,” Shandro said.
“Alberta is ready. Our health-care partners are ready. And we’re working on offering even more ways to get you a vaccine.”
Bookings for Phase 2A of vaccination officially opened on March 15, however, some pharmacies started taking bookings ahead of that date.
When asked about the perceived “queue jumping,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said because the vaccine the pharmacies had in storage expiry dates, some locations that weren’t taking bookings for Phase 1 eligibility made Phase 2A appointments early, to ensure their doses were used up.
When Shandro was asked how the province would ensure people wouldn’t book ahead of the start date of Phase 2B, set to get underway in April, he said the province would trust that Albertans would use the honour system, and wait for the right date before booking their appointments.
Shandro said Alberta surpassed 400,000 total vaccinations on Wednesday.
Due to limited vaccine quantities and storage and handling requirements, only select pharmacies are able to participate in the vaccine rollout at this time, according to Alberta Health.
As of March 16, 92,081 Albertans have been fully vaccinated with two doses.
— With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News