Some Albertans are getting their COVID-19 vaccine ahead of schedule, as pharmacies work to use up leftover doses.
On Friday evening, Gwendoline Hunka got a tip from a friend that a number of pharmacies in Edmonton had doses that would go to waste if not used.
She called a Whyte Avenue pharmacy at 10:30 p.m. and was told she could get an appointment Saturday afternoon.
Hunka is eligible for Phase 2B in Alberta’s vaccine rollout, but her age group is not yet in the vaccine booking range.
Currently, only people born in 1963 or older are eligible to book for Phase 2B.
By April 23, all Albertans eligible in 2B will be allowed to book, the province said Monday.
When she was given the opportunity to be vaccinated earlier than expected, Hunka said she felt mixed emotions.
“While I am super grateful, I do carry that guilt. I want my nurses to be safe. I want healthcare workers to be safe,” she said.
“I want to be protected because I know I’m at risk but I want the people taking care of me to be protected too.”
Hunka was able to get nearly a dozen other people, also in 2B, signed up at the pharmacy for extra doses.
Hunka said she’s grateful for the unexpected Pfizer dose but has concerns about how she found out about the leftover doses.
“It shouldn’t be vaccination by gossip,” she said.
“I’m sure there are people in this category that haven’t gotten it because they don’t have someone to tell them it’s available.
“It’s not fair and it shouldn’t be that way.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine can be stored and shipped “at standard freezer temperatures” for up to 14 days, Health Canada said.
An Edmonton pharmacist told Global News in March that the frozen Pfizer vaccine comes to them thawed.
“We have 120 hours from the time that it is taken out of the freezer at the distribution centre to use it,” said Pam Lavold, who is also the owner of The Medicine Shoppe Whitemud Crossing.
Bruce Winston, the president of the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association, said by the time the pharmacies get the shipment, they usually have four days to administer all the shots before they expire.
Alberta Health said all pharmacies are given explicit guidance on booking and utilizing a waitlist to ensure that doses aren’t wasted.
“Pharmacies can include a variety of individuals on the waiting list, but are required to align it with Alberta’s immunization approach,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan told Global News late last week.
McMillan said the waiting list must prioritize giving expiring vaccines first to people who are already eligible in the current or previous phases.
“From there, pharmacies must prioritize individuals eligible in the next birth years of Phase 2B, Phase 2C and, if still no one is available, offer the expiring vaccine to the oldest individual possible,” he said.
Hunka said she and other friends in later 2B age groups have received messages asking why they qualified to get a dose.
“Somebody would look at me and say: ‘She doesn’t look sick… she looks super healthy,'” Hunka, who has Crohn’s disease, said.
“I have friends who are sicker than I am and even they feel guilty about it cause it’s like: ‘Well why do you deserve it?'”
Hunka said she is concerned that vaccine shaming will lead others to not jump at the opportunity of receiving a vaccine when offered.
“You don’t know someone else’s situation. You don’t know the intricacies that go with that.
“We should just be happy that doses are getting into arms.
“The pharmacies wouldn’t give somebody the shot if they knew it was the wrong thing to do,” she said. “If you have the opportunity, take it. It’s better to have vaccines in arms than in the trash.”
With files from Global News’ Chris Chacon