As more Albertans receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, many are asking, “What’s next?” Some patients are getting differing answers.
Alberta Health says people waiting for a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should wait 12 weeks between shots. Second doses are not being booked now. For those waiting for a Pfizer or Moderna shot, the wait is up to 16 weeks.
Alberta wants to get as many first doses into people as possible and evidence increasingly suggests waiting longer than the manufacturer’s initial recommendations will not affect the vaccine’s efficacy.
Some pharmacies offering the shot are telling patients different information.
In the Global Edmonton newsroom alone, three people who received AstraZeneca vaccinations at three different pharmacies were told different information about their second doses.
One person booked a tentative second appointment, dependent on supply, four weeks after the first dose. The manufacturer recommends 28 days between doses.
In a statement Alberta Health says pharmacies are expected to follow provincial guidance.
“Pharmacies should not currently be offering second doses unless they are for individuals who booked those appointments prior to March 10, when Alberta changed its approach. Existing appointments booked prior to March 10 are being honoured,” the statement reads.
“Currently, we’re not aware of any reports that the 1,300 participating pharmacies are not largely following the correct approach. Any concerns would be followed up by health officials to address any confusion that may exist.”
A statement from the Alberta Pharmacists Association’s Margaret Wing said “all Alberta pharmacies participating in the Alberta COVID-19 pharmacy immunization program must follow the same rules determined by Alberta Health.”
Lorian Hardcastle is a University of Calgary professor specializing in health law and health policy. She says managing this kind of direction for pharmacies can be tricky.
“There’s been a real disconnect between what public health officials are saying and what pharmacies are doing,” Hardcastle says.
“When you’re talking about thousands of locally owned and operated businesses, (Alberta Health) does not have the same control on the ground to control what happens.”
Hardcastle thinks reducing the number of pharmacies offering the vaccine might help streamline supply issues and fix any communication problems.
On the other hand, more pharmacies with vaccine means more places for people to get a vaccine. It’s a balancing act for government.
“The end goal is everybody being vaccinated, so perfect adherence isn’t essential,” Alberta Health says.
At Jennifer Debiasi’s pharmacy in south Edmonton, she’s telling the steady stream of patients getting their vaccines to expect a 12-week wait for the AstraZeneca shot, but adds that it could take as long as 16 weeks, depending on supply.
Nobody at Debiasi’s pharmacy is walking out with a second appointment, including Kyle Kawanami. He was excited to get his first shot but was already thinking about what might come next and when.
“I’m hopeful to get a second dose sooner rather than later,” he says.
Debiasi says all pharmacists are struggling with exactly how to handle second appointments. Part of her frustration is with inconsistent supply. It’s hard to manage patients when you don’t know what you’ll get, when you’ll get it or how much is coming.
“It’s frustrating for patients to be navigating the system,” she says.
“I’ve not been confirming second-dose appointments because, again, supply is an issue and things change every day.”