March 31, 2021 – On March 30th, the BC Ministry of Health worked with the BC Pharmacy Association (BCPhA) to respond to an urgent need to distribute COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine that was going to expire on Saturday, April 3rd. The government wished to make available the vaccine with short expiry dates to those aged 55 to 65 living in the Lower Mainland that would launch the next day, March 31st. While in a call between the BCPhA with British Columbia pharmacies participating in the program to alert them vaccine was on its way and how the rollout was to be conducted, the Ministry of Health sent out a news release saying appointments could start being booked on March 31st. There was no requirement by government to the BCPhA or pharmacies to wait to take appointments that would begin the next day.
Once the BC Government’s Ministry of Health made their public announcement on March 30th that vaccines would be available in BC pharmacies, all our phones in our BC pharmacies began ringing off the hook. Given the timing of release of the government announcement, and the BCPhA briefing was just concluding, there was no way to communicate clearly to all London Drugs pharmacies and customers of the planned roll out. Many of our staff and pharmacies learned first from the government announcement before hearing from London Drugs pharmacy management.
Our three Lower Mainland pharmacies that were allotted vaccines, began taking down patient names and contact information, understanding the government’s first priority was to ensure the most important thing was to make sure all doses were going into people’s arms in the next 48 hours, before they would expire. Given London Drugs was only allotted 500 doses from the approximately 14,000 we understand the government had available, from all the phone calls of interest, we quickly filled up all the spots we were allotted.
We are very alarmed and disappointed at allegations made in social media that London Drugs allocations were provided to employees and other insiders. This is absolutely false, and incorrect and is a libelous and slanderous allegation to London Drugs reputation. The government informed the public via the news release over an hour before London Drugs own pharmacists were informed of the limited roll out. We respected the government’s requests to communicate in a certain order, and that order prevented any inside information for employees ahead of the public what was already calling in the thousands to acquire the limited vaccinations allocated to us.
There are 150 pharmacies offering the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine in the Lower Mainland over the next two days. We understand from our counterparts their phones are also ringing off the hook which means people want to get vaccinated.
We realize there has been a lot of confusion around how these first appointment bookings were made with different communication provided to pharmacies vs. to the public, from the Ministry of Health. We hope the facts described above provides clarity on what has occurred over the past 24 hours. Moving forward, and we are hopeful many more doses to be available in the coming days, our online booking system for BC will be ready and up and running as it currently is for other provinces. The government solely controls which vaccines are allocated and in what quantity, so all inquiries need to be directed to the government on their next plans.
As we have stated from the beginning, pharmacies need to be nimble – ready to assist each provincial health authority for when they need us, and the more time we have to plan and work together, the smoother any roll out will be.
Some additional facts to keep in mind:
- London Drugs has been providing pharmacists for months to the BC Government vaccination sites for several weeks, we have expert skill and experience in this area.
- We have been vaccinating patients for influenza and other vaccines like travel for a very long time. We have a safe and effective history.
- Our pharmacies have been assisting other provincial governments in the smooth rollout of using community pharmacy for vaccinations in Alberta for example.
- We have been available to work with governments for months. We purchased -70 medical grade fridges last year on speculation the government may need to turn to pharmacy to help.
- Pharmacies have been leading and practicing all health and safety protocols for the past year – the pharmacy is one of the safest places to have vaccines administered.