Nearly three dozen Ottawa pharmacies will join the province’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution pilot when Ontario receives additional supply of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses in the coming days.
Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, confirmed to Global News on Monday that 34 pharmacies in Ottawa and the surrounding area are currently being on-boarded to the province’s vaccine distribution network.
The pharmacies tapped to administer vaccines are spread throughout the city and include neighbourhoods deemed more vulnerable for infection, he said.
Bates said he is “hopeful” that Ottawa pharmacies will be able to start giving out jabs within the next five to 14 days.
Exact timelines on when the pharmacies will first be able to offer shots depends on when Canada receives an expected shipment of 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses from the United States, he said.
The expansion of Ottawa’s vaccine distribution plans comes as COVID-19 levels surge in the nation’s capital.
Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod first tweeted Sunday evening that Ottawa will be classified as a “hot zone” in Phase 2 of Ontario’s vaccine rollout.
Regions such as Peel and York have been dubbed hotspots for COVID-19 and are already included in the expansion of Ontario’s plans to deliver AstraZeneca doses to those aged 60 and older via a network of pharmacies in the province.
Bates said Monday the pharmacy pilot has been designed to expand vaccination coverage in hotspots and as much as possible across the province to “fill some of the gaps in terms of access to the vaccines.”
But Ottawa, which has seen rising levels of COVID-19 in recent weeks, had been left out of stated plans to scale up the number of pharmacies involved in the pilot. Nearby Kingston, as well as Toronto and Windsor-Essex, acted as testbeds for the pilot.
Mayor Jim Watson last week called on Ontario’s Minister of Health to include the nation’s capital in the expansion of the program, arguing that some Ottawa communities were experiencing coronavirus infection rates as high as some areas of the GTA.
Watson also expressed his frustration late last week that the city was seemingly being shortchanged on the number of vaccine doses it has received to date on a per capita basis.
The head of Ontario’s vaccine task force, retired general Rick Hillier, said Friday that Ottawa started receiving a larger proportion of vaccines while it was proving out the province’s supply chain, but that numbers fell off after January. Premier Doug Ford pledged the city would receive an equitable share going forward.
MacLeod said in her tweet Sunday that after Ottawa receives an upcoming shipment of 4,000 Moderna vaccines this week as well as the AstraZeneca doses, the city will have a “larger than per capita supply.”
Bates said it will be difficult to say how many doses each pharmacy can administer on a daily basis in the early stages of the rollout, as supply will be a limiting factor.
But he said that once the pharmacy network is fully up and running across the province, each site could administer 40 shots per day. If Ontario is able to meet the goal of every pharmacy in the province eventually handing out vaccines, that could result in up to one million jabs per day, Bates estimated.
He added that pharmacies are lobbying to administer Moderna vaccines as well, but couldn’t say when or if those doses will be added to the pharmacy distribution plans.
Meanwhile, vaccine appointments are completely booked at Ottawa’s community clinics through to April 7.
Vaccinations were opened up to anyone in the city aged 70 and older on Monday morning, which saw residents rush to snap up appointments for the next 10 days.
The city says it will notify residents when vaccine supply allows for additional bookings. Residents in some rural and high-priority urban communities can still book via the city’s phone line.