An Alberta pharmacist is raising concerns about a gap between Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered and administered in the province, saying it is critical to get vaccines into the arms of Albertans as case counts climb.
Tony Nickonchuk is a pharmacist in Peace River, who has been sharing publicly available health data with Albertans since the start of the pandemic.
The data, which aligns with charts shared by the COVID-19 Vaccination Tracker, shows that there is a gap for the AstraZeneca vaccines, which is likely due to changing eligibility criteria and hesitancy after news of rare blood clots in some patients.
It also shows that Pfizer has had a very high rate of uptake, but Nickonchuk said he is confused by the disparity when it comes to Moderna doses, even after taking into account the issues with some of the Moderna deliveries.
“To see only 70 per cent of the Moderna doses being used in the province that have been delivered to date – I just don’t understand why.”
Nickonchuk said Moderna has a high rate of efficacy after the first dose and he wants to see more Albertans vaccinated.
“We need to get as many doses into as many arms are possible. Why are those not in arms? I just don’t understand,” he said.
“Every arm that dose gets into is one less person, two weeks later, that has significant risk of hospitalization and potential mortality than if it wasn’t in their arm.”
Pfizer shipments have been arriving almost weekly, while Moderna vaccines are delivered every three weeks.
The premier has frequently called out the federal government for inconsistent or delayed shipments of vaccines, pointing to that as a reason why more Albertans are not getting vaccinated, but Nickonchuk said that is not the only factor.
“If it was all the federal government’s fault, we should see the gap between doses delivered and administered staying relatively constant.
“Instead what we’ve been seeing since the beginning of March is the gap between doses delivered and administered is growing over time.
“It should not be happening,” he said.
“Either that curve should be staying flat or it should be increasing over time, meaning Alberta is ramping up and doing the right things to keep up with the amount of vaccine coming into the province. That’s not happening right now.”
Alberta Health said the doses not yet administered arrived in shipments last week.
“Anytime a very large shipment comes in, it takes a few days to get it shipped provincewide, which can temporarily lead to a higher than usual total of doses that have not been administered.
“We are working to administer these doses as quickly as possible, and expect this total to decline in the coming days,” said spokesperson Tom McMillan.
Nickonchuk said that response does not explain everything.
“If that was the only thing driving that gap, the gap between doses administered and doses delivered would be relatively constant over time – it would not be falling,” he said.
“That gap keeps opening larger and larger over time since the beginning of March. If that was the only reason for that delay, you would see that consistency between Moderna and Pfizer and we’re just not.”
Global News asked Alberta Health what could be done to speed up distribution and what logistics could be streamlined to get doses out faster. In a follow-up statement, McMillan said that as more doses arrive, the province will continue to work to speed up delivery and get doses out as soon as possible.
“The best thing we can do to reduce turnaround times is to increase the speed, size and consistency of incoming shipments so that we can keep expanding the vaccine rollout,” McMillan said.
Nickonchuk said it makes sense that consistency in receipt allows for consistency in distribution but that does not explain the amount of time there has been a gap.
“They’ve been received so your size and your consistency of delivery is meaningless.
“It helps for future planning absolutely but those doses are here, so why have they not been distributed and administered?”
Dr. Chris Mody, the head of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary, examined Nickonchuk’s charts; he said it is difficult to know what happens between the process of delivery and administration.
“If I were to speculate, I would say Moderna has been less prominent and so consequently probably the supply chain for Moderna is perhaps just not quite as efficient as it is for the Pfizer vaccine,” he said.
“Those very slight inefficiencies can lead to this kind of picture. We always want to make the supply chain as efficient as we possibly can and improve these so that the delivery to administer graphs are as close as possible.”