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Expert says rush for AstraZeneca vaccine appointments at B.C. pharmacies a good sign

Last Updated Mar 31, 2021 at 8:40 am PDT

FILE - Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead, Manitoba Vaccine Implementation Task Force draws a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Winnipeg, Friday, March 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

London Drugs says phone line were 'inundated' when B.C. announced AstraZeneca vaccine availability at pharmacies

All available time slots at London Drugs were booked by Tuesday night

Expert believes it's a good sing to see so many people interested in the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite recent concerns

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Bookings are supposed to start Wednesday, but at least one major pharmacy chain in B.C. says it had already filled up all its appointments by Tuesday night for people aged 55 to 65 who want the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The provincial government on Tuesday gave a day’s notice that the age group could start getting the AstraZeneca shots at 150 pharmacy locations in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions. But it appears London Drugs started taking bookings right away, filling all available time slots by Tuesday night and asking people to stop calling its pharmacies directly.

In a statement, London Drugs says its phone lines “became inundated with customers wanting to book appointments” as soon as the province made the announcement.

“At the three stores where we have so far been allocated vaccines, these pharmacies immediately began taking down eligible patient information aged 55 to 65 for appointments,” the statement reads.

The company notes there are limited number of vaccines allocated to each company.

“As soon as more supply becomes available, we will open up our online booking similarly to what we would do with routine flu vaccinations,” it adds. “We are ready to vaccinate as many people as possible and expect more information on increased allotment will be coming in the days ahead.”

There’s some frustration online, but one expert sees a silver lining.

“There’s so much concern about how there’s been an erosion of public trust with this vaccine, with lots of mixed messaging and communication gaps and then a rare but not zero per cent safety issue, so it is good to hear that there are people who are willing to get this vaccine in the 55-plus age group,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases scientist at the University of Toronto.

“At the end of the day it’s a good vaccine. We are seeing how it is truly contributing to the transformation of the epidemic in United Kingdom. It has tremendous potential to reduce the risk of infection and even those who get the infection, there is evidence that with AstraZeneca, people just don’t have as severe an infection. I’m really happy people are lining up to get this,” he adds.

Bogoch says the negative headlines about AstraZeneca’s vaccine being linked to blood clots in a small number of patients can’t be ignored, but there is still potential for the shot to do tremendous good.

“I think the big message here is that it’s clear people still want this vaccine and that is very positive. It is extremely effective and it will help at an individual level and, of course, at a population level when more and more people get vaccinated,” he tells NEWS 1130.

“I think the true test will not be today or this week but in the weeks and weeks ahead to see if the demand for this vaccine remains high. There’s still such a shortage of vaccines in much of the country that there is still a significant demand. But as more and more people get vaccinated, will that demand for this particular vaccine remain high? I don’t know.”

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As of Wednesday, eligible British Columbians in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions can call eligible pharmacies to book an appointment to receive the vaccine.

Drop-in service may also be offered at some locations.

People must bring their personal health number, which is on the B.C. Services Card or CareCard.

-With files from Ria Renouf