Pharmacists in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia say bookings for COVID-19 boosters have fallen off, despite third-dose vaccination rates hovering under 50 per cent.
As of Wednesday, New Brunswick reports 44.7 per cent of its eligible population has been boosted, adding 3,102 third doses.
Nova Scotia is at 45.7 per cent, having logged 7,501 more boosters Wednesday.
That province announced recently it would alter its vaccine rollout, with a focus on pharmacies and scaling back provincial clinics.
New Brunswick is sticking with its current strategy.
“We’re staying the course for now,” says Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
She points out a video the Government of New Brunswick recently shared to Instagram as one of many ways they’re hoping to get people into clinics.
But they still don’t seem to be booking appointments.
Jake Reid, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists’ Association, says some pharmacies may have to cut back on staff or leave the COVID-19 vaccination program altogether if clinics stay quiet.
“I think we’re a little surprised,” he says.
“We saw people were really keen to get out and get their first and — for the most part — their second shots. But we’re not experiencing that in at least the last couple weeks.”
Neither he nor Dr. Russell blame one factor for the straggling figures. With winter weather and tight measures keeping people home, it’s possible some just haven’t gotten around to booking yet.
Reid says some also seem to see the third dose as a luxury, whereas the first to have been considered essential to “full vaccination” status.
In Nova Scotia, pharmacists say that province’s push to get boosters in arms through January has meant they have not actually seen bookings slow down yet — but it’s on the horizon.
She clarifies, however, those vacant appointment slots don’t mean doses are ending up in the trash.
“Our immunizers are incredibly diligent at minimizing the waste,” says Bodnar.
“There will always be waste, that’s a given when vaccines come in vials of six or 10 but pharmacists are pretty spectacular at managing inventory and minimizing loss.”
In New Brunswick, the department of health tells Global News the rate of wastage for COVID-19 vaccines in that province is 0.015 per cent — 100 times lower than the department’s projection of 5 per cent.
“The decrease in demand at pharmacies has not resulted in more wastage,” Department of Health Communications Director Bruce Macfarlane says in a statement.
“In fact, over the course of the last year, New Brunswick has improved its ability to preserve vaccines, going from an overall rate of 0.5 per cent wastage last April, to 0.015 per cent wastage to date.”
One theory in the department — and among pharmacists — as to why bookings have slowed is COVID fatigue.
“If there’s any time in the pandemic that people have been fatigued as a population, I think this is it,” says Dr. Russell.
COVID-19 vaccine appointments can be booked at most pharmacies in either province by phone.
New Brunswick’s RHA clinics are booking online.