Calgary pharmacies see high demand for COVID-19 booster shots, hundreds of appointments canceled amid shortage

Calgary pharmacies are struggling to keep up with the high demand for COVID-19 booster shots while some Calgarians say they’ve had their appointments cancelled.

Eligibility for an third dose of COVID-19 vaccine expanded to all Albertans 18 and older on Tuesday, leading to long lineups and concerns over whether or not there was enough supply to fill all the bookings.

“We were really left speechless, just the chaos that our staff and our patients experienced because the store was full, we could barely keep two metres distance and we had lineups down the hall,” said Lauren Sule, pharmacist at The Medicine Shoppe in Gulf Canada Square. 

“Even for people who had an appointment, it was an hour wait time to get their shot. We actually experienced a glitch in our AHS booking system where people were booked every single minute for their vaccine during an eight-hour period.”

Those glitches in bookings have now led to cancellations for many Calgarians who have received text messages from the Government of Alberta informing them that their appointment is no longer valid.

Sule says her pharmacy has administered so many booster doses this week that their team has been unable to count.

She says she has concerns over patient safety in terms of the demand placed on pharmacies and the short vaccine intervals.

“Our prescription patients who have very serious medical conditions require their prescriptions on time before the holidays, so not only was there an issue of perhaps not being able to fill their prescriptions, but also a potential risk for medication errors,” Sule said.

The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Gulf Canada Square – like many other pharmacies in the city – has now run out of Pfizer vaccines for a two-week period because that vaccine is also being recommended to children.

It means Moderna is the only available vaccine at some pharmacies, which can be used as a booster shot according to pharmacists – as long as you have had two consecutive doses of Pfizer or Moderna previously.

Meanwhile, other pharmacies – like the Cambrian Pharmacy in northwest Calgary – only have Pfizer shots available, and are seeking another shipment of Moderna.

Pharmacy Assistant Chris McFarland says appointments are now booked solid at his location until the end of the year

“We start every day usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and do about one vaccination every 10 minutes,” McFarland said.

“It’s based on how many doses we’ve been getting from the government, and we’ve been just booking them based on how many we actually have in store, so we’re not trying to guess as to how many we’re going to be getting just in case we end up getting a short amount.”

‘WE ARE AWARE OF APPOINTMENT CANCELLATIONS’: ALBERTA HEALTH

Alberta Health confirmed to CTV News on Thursday that it is aware of appointment cancellations for booster shots, noting that some pharmacies may have booked more appointments than they had vaccine for.

Some appointments for Christmas Day were also mistakenly booked, according to the province, but that was quickly corrected.

“Select pharmacies may no longer have vaccines or may only have one brand of vaccine; however, all pharmacies that ordered more supply last week should have received a top-up yesterday, or should receive it today,” reads a statement from Jason Maloney with Alberta Health.

The statement goes on to say that the current supply of Pfizer is limited, meaning Albertans 30 years of age and older who are eligible for a booster are now being encouraged to receive a dose of the Moderna vaccine.

The province says pharmacies are also encouraged to use Moderna vaccine for third doses whenever possible.

“Pfizer and Moderna use the same mRNA technology and both offer a high level of protection against COVID-19, particularly against severe outcomes,” Maloney said. 

“In fact, some evidence shows Moderna may be even be more effective, so we’re urge Albertans to take advantage of whichever is available to them most conveniently.”  

FRUSTRATION OVER ONLINE BOOKING SYSTEM 

Alberta’s online vaccination booking system was stretched thin this week as thousands of people logged on to book an appointment for a booster shot now that eligibility has expanded.

Some Calgarians were lucky enough to get an appointment and receive a dose, but others had their appointments canceled.

“There’s a lot of people out there looking to get their next shots or even their first shots and the amount of crashes that have happened on the web pages and databases have caused a lot of turbulence in the booking,” said Calgarian Georgia Kaluznick.

Kaluznick had no issues booking her booster shot this time around, but mentioned some of her family members had their bookings canceled because of the high demand. 

“I think a lot of people are kind of freaking out a bit during the holiday season trying to get their shots and time for seeing their family and friends.”

Meanwhile, other Calgarians like John Edgar, who received his third dose Thursday, is just grateful to have overcome booking difficulties. 

“Definitely ahead of the holidays it feels good to have gotten this in, get this confirmed and over with and have the holiday season to be a bit less stressful,” Edgar said.  

CALGARIANS HOARDING RAPID TEST KITS

Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy owner Neil Devchand administering a booster dose for John Edgar.Alberta’s free rapid test kits are available on a first-come, first-served basis to ensure as many people have access as possible, but some Calgarians are hoarding kits.

The province says there is a limit of one kit per person within a 14 day period. Albertans can pick up one additional kit for another person provided they have the individual’s health care number.

Officials with The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Gulf Canada Square said they handed out more than 900 of the test kits this week alone and have officially run out.

Pharmacy owner Neil Devchand says he has heard of some families taking five or six kits for themselves.

He says Calgarians should be aware that each kit contains five tests.

“I believe that with the global shortage, we’re lucky to be even able to get these free testsm and it’s quite important that the tests contain five kits from the government because it does go a long way in most households,” Devchand said.

“So it’s important to share that with a number of households rather than keeping it all within one family, because a family of four could end up with four for five test kits, which results in 20 tests, which does seem like quite a lot.”

Alberta Health says it is currently relying on the honour system.

We expect that most Albertans will do the right thing,” read a statement sent to CTV News.

“We ask Albertans to not attend multiple locations/combinations of pharmacies and AHS sites to attempt to stockpile kits.”==

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