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National pharmacy chains offering help to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates

Last Updated Jan 9, 2021 at 2:27 pm PST

Summary

London Drugs and Shoppers Drug Mart are offering to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates

One expert says the private sector could help get shots out much more quickly

But anther expert feels pharmacies could complicate the process even more

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Two Canadian pharmacy chains are offering to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates.

London Drugs and Shoppers Drug Mart want in on the vaccination effort, saying their experience and vast networks would be an asset.

Chris Chiew, G.M. of Pharmacy at London Drugs in Richmond, explains their pharmacists have the experience to safely inject the vaccine since they’ve vaccinated thousands in the past.

Both pharmacy chains say they can handle large quantities, no matter the vaccine type.

“We just finished a massive flu vaccination season in the fall. We delivered over two million flu vaccinations in five weeks,” the President of Shoppers Drug Mart, Jeff Leger, tells CityNews.

Now the vaccination effort is run exclusively by public health authorities.

B.C. has a limited supply of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines but more are expected in the coming weeks.

Leger adds about 85 per cent of British Columbians live within 10 kilometres of one a Shoppers Drug Mart.

Shoppers Drug Mart didn’t provide a provincial breakdown but says it can do roughly 142,000 daily vaccinations across Canada.

And London Drugs has 53 locations across B.C., going as far north as Prince George.

London Drugs says it even can administer an average of 4,000 shots in B.C. per day.

An average of 1,850 British Columbians have been immunized each day since Dec. 15 which is a little over half of the province’s daily goal.

Vancouver Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Hoption Cann says the private sector’s vast experience with vaccines is important to consider especially when it comes time to vaccinate the general public and says it could accelerate the process

“There are obviously better ways to get the vaccine out more quickly and pharmacists are qualified to give vaccines and special training can be done in a relatively short period of time,” he says.

Cann adds, it’s also worth looking into since the UK and South Africa COVID variant has started to infect people in the country and so Canada can avoid a stockpile of beneficial vaccines that can’t be delivered with there is a lack of manpower.

But Executive Direct at the Canadian Public Health Association, Ian Culbert explains, “It’s not just about getting needles into arms.”

“It’s about making sure the vaccine is distributed properly, that it’s stored properly, that people are recalled for their second shots, that we’re able to track adverse effects. It’s all of that.”

With a vaccine rollout this large, some say being organized is better than being fast and the process should be kept centralized to health authorities.

The two drug stores have talked to the federal government about delivering COVID injections later this year once there’s enough supply for the general public.

But for now some of their pharmacists are working at public immunization clinics.

“Pharmacists are ready to help out. It’s extremely important to get our country back up and running,” Leger adds.

In an emailed statement to NEWS 1130, the Ministry of Health says, “We are working with all partners to ensure that when the second phase of the vaccine rollout is here, that we have enough vaccine clinics to serve the population, and that includes pharmacies.”

“Right now, health authorities and qualified health professionals are working quickly and efficiently to safely vaccinate long-term care home residents and staff, as well as frontline healthcare workers and remote and at-risk Indigenous communities. When more specific planning for the next phase gets underway, more details will be shared with community vaccine providers, and regional health authorities will reach out to engage in planning Chandler Grieve.”

B.C. health officials will provide an update on the vaccine strategy later this month.