Community pharmacist seeks greater role in Alberta vaccine campaign

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The owner of an Airdrie pharmacy that specializes in immunizations is questioning why community businesses haven’t been given a bigger role in Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

The Polaris Travel Clinic and Pharmacy received its first shipment of vaccine earlier this week: 100 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The pharmacy has been asking Alberta Health Services for a bigger role in immunizing community members in Airdrie given its pre-pandemic focus on providing shots for international travellers.

“It’s been a long path to get to this point, and it’s still a very narrow swath of people we can do. It’s 55 to 64 with no medical conditions,” said Polaris owner and pharmacist Jason Kmet.

“That’s a relatively limited group when we have the capacity to do hundreds and hundreds a day.”

Kmet said after COVID-19 vaccines were first approved for use in Canada, he began actively reaching out to the province to allow his business to become an immunization site.


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The pharmacy has considerable capacity for giving jabs that isn’t being used as international travel declined drastically due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Kmet said frustration has grown watching large shipments arrive at other pharmacies, including chains like Shoppers Drug Mart. Last week, Postmedia reported Shoppers was completing immunizations for soon-to-be-eligible Albertans amid worries of vaccine wastage.

“I’ve reached out to people with Alberta Health and the government but there’s just nothing,” he said. “It just seems unfortunate that a space like us, that’s so set up to do this, has been left out of it.”

Alberta Health said the province’s vaccine rollout is focused on quickly and safely getting doses into Albertans’ arms.

They said shipping delays and limited supplies have led to some restrictions on getting vaccines to pharmacies.

“Initially, due to limited vaccine quantities and strict storage, handling and distribution requirements for the mRNAs vaccines, only a limited number of pharmacies were able to offer the vaccine,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said.

“These pharmacies were identified based on geographic and population needs (and) demonstrated ability to handle large volumes of immunizations in short time-frames based on 2020/2021 Influenza Immunization Program data.”

More pharmacies will be added to the rollout when supply increases, McMillan said.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi encouraged people to get immunized in whatever way they can, whether it’s appointments offered by Alberta Health Services or by calling pharmacies until they can find an opening.


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“There’s a lot of vaccine availability, so I look forward to working with the province to figuring out how we can accelerate distribution of the vaccines through ramping up community centres like the Telus (Convention Centre) and the Genesis Centre,” Nenshi said.

“I’ve said for months, we’re soon going to have more vaccine than we have the ability to distribute, so we’ll be working on that.”

Kmet argued his pharmacy’s proximity to the Calgary International Airport makes it feasible to receive Pfizer vaccines, which have transportation considerations because they can only be kept at refrigerator temperature for about five days.

The pharmacy continues to receive inquiries from Albertans eager to get their shot, Kmet said.

“I couldn’t tell you how many phone calls a day we get,” he said.

“Everyday, I couldn’t even tell you how many calls we get from people who say, ‘Really, you don’t have it?’”

Twitter: @jasonfherring


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