Pfizer vaccine pilot to be rolled out to pharmacies in GTA hot spots amid questions over siting
Deployment of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to pharmacies across Ontario will begin Friday, with a pilot phase targeting virus hot spots in Toronto and Peel Region. But an initial recommendation to balance the pilot with an equal number of independent pharmacies and chain locations was ignored by public health authorities.
The three-week pilot project will provide Pfizer snapshots to eligible people over 55 in sensitive areas. Each site will receive 150 doses per week and will continue to manage their own reservations, as they did for AstraZeneca vaccines.
The pilot project will include 16 pharmacies, half in Toronto and the other in Peel. But only four of those pharmacies are independently owned, despite advice from the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA).
“We recommended having a fair distribution between pharmacy formats,” said Justin Bates, president and CEO of the association.
The OPA and the Canadian Neighborhood Pharmacy Association were consulted on identifying locations to consider for the pilot, and the provincial health ministry and local public health units selected the locations that would receive the pilot. initial shipment of doses.
Mr Bates said he expects the rollout to be fair as more doses of Pfizer become available. This should happen later in May, depending on supply. “It should be a level playing field,” he said.
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This pilot phase will be different from the previous trial of pharmacies to distribute AstraZeneca vaccines. During this phase, Ontario chose locations in Toronto, Windsor and Kingston – where COVID rates are among the lowest in the province – before expanding distribution to more pharmacies.
“This is much more focused on hot spots,” Mr. Bates said of the Pfizer trial. “That’s a smaller number of pharmacies and fewer doses.”
The OPA has developed a manual with lessons learned from other jurisdictions, such as Alberta, where doses of Pfizer are already administered in pharmacies. Once Pfizer’s vaccine is taken out of ultra-cold storage, it stays good for five days while it thaws, so pharmacies have to manage appointments to ensure there is no waste, Bates said. There are also different procedures to extract the Pfizer vaccine from its vial, he noted.
Pharmacies across Ontario have faced increased demand for vaccine appointments, after eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine was expanded to include people as young as 40 years old. Many pharmacies have already run out of AstraZeneca doses assigned to them so far, Mr Bates said, and the rest could be out of doses by the end of the week, pending further shipments.
To be considered for the Pfizer pilot, pharmacies had to be in a COVID-19 hot spot, have no remaining doses of AstraZeneca, and have demonstrated high performance in delivering AstraZeneca injections, Mr Bates said.
Other key considerations for participating in the pilot were meeting “complex mRNA vaccine storage and handling requirements,” as Christian Hasse, spokesperson for Pfizer’s Ontario Ministry of Health, wrote in a statement. e-mail declaration. Mr Hasse did not respond to questions about why the balance between company-owned and independent pharmacies differed from the OPA recommendation, and how distribution will be balanced as deployment will expand.
Ten of the pilot project pharmacies are owned by Loblaw Companies Ltd. – eight Shoppers Drug Mart locations, one Loblaw pharmacy and one DrugStore pharmacy. Two Rexall locations are also included, and one is a Walmart Pharmacy.
Pharmacist Mina Maseh, owner of Friendly Care West King pharmacy in northwest Toronto, said she was told last weekend that her location was being considered for the pilot. His pharmacy has already hired additional staff to administer AstraZeneca vaccines and has managed appointments to avoid overcrowding and move a high number of doses, he said. When a nearby company-owned store was chosen instead, he was frustrated.
“The store that was chosen does not represent this hot area,” he said. “It borders a more chic part of town. It’s not to see people who are really fighting COVID. … If I have to wait another two or three weeks, how many more people in this neighborhood are at risk? “
Mr Maseh said he had had multiple conversations with patients who were hesitant about vaccines and tried to fight mistrust of public health systems. He said two people he “begged” to take the AstraZeneca vaccine later ended up in intensive care with COVID-19, while there were others he was able to convince.
“It scares me,” Maseh said. “If they go to someone who is not their pharmacist, whom they have not known for years, they will not be convinced.
While the OPA hoped to see uniform distribution, the locations chosen for the pilot are “good pharmacies,” Bates said.
“I think it will balance out,” Bates said. “It will happen very quickly … as we look at the second phase of this implementation.”
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