Pharmacies swamped as age eligibility for AstraZeneca vaccine drops

On Monday, the province announced a change in eligibility for the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, which set off a flurry of activity at pharmacies and doctors' offices.

News of the lower age eligibility sent people scrambling to find an appointment for the shot

Pharmacist Ashley Ewasiuk says while the demand has been tough to keep up with, it's also been 'extremely rewarding and exciting to see people want to be vaccinated.' (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Dave Goertzen considers himself one of the fortunate ones after he secured a vaccine appointment after age requirements for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine changed Monday.

After doing regular assessments based on a provincial calculator, Goertzen, 41, figured he wouldn't be able to get the COVID-19 shot until late May or early June. News the age requirement was dropped to 40 and over to get the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday sent him scrambling to book an appointment.

Goertzen was able to snag a spot at a pharmacy on Portage Avenue only hours after the announcement was made.

"Well I feel better. It's a lot better knowing I can get it. I still really wish that teachers would get it even before me just because they are around kids all day long," said Goertzen. "But I am still going to take the opportunity since it was given to me."

'Can't even put the phone down'

There are about 55,000 AstraZeneca doses available, and Tim Smith of Pharmacists Manitoba said they won't last long.

"I'm hearing from some of the colleagues, both here in Winnipeg as well as in rural communities, that they can't even put the phone down between calls before it rings again, so obviously, there's been a lot of interest from Manitobans," said Smith. 

Pharmacist Ashley Ewasiuk at Northway Pharmacy on Corydon Avenue said all 100 doses they had were spoken for within 1½ hours of the change.

"It's been insanity, but it has also been extremely rewarding and exciting to see people want to be vaccinated," Ewasiuk said.

There wasn't much time to get ready for the rush, she said.

"I don't know how you would be prepared. Our phones were ringing off the hook. We weren't even able to make outgoing calls because calls were constantly streaming in." 

People who didn't act fast enough came up empty. Mike Link had booked a Monday afternoon appointment at Polo Park in Winnipeg. Three hours before he was expected to show up, he got a call saying the vaccine was all gone. He headed over to Northway to find out they were all out too. 

WATCH | Mad scramble at pharmacies as people clamour to get a shot:

Mad scramble at pharmacies as people clamoured to get a shot

1 year ago
Duration 2:10
Manitobans aged 40 and up can now get the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine from a doctor or pharmacist.

"It looks like it's going quickly. It's good news, right? Everyone is getting the vaccine. It's good it's not going to be sitting in freezers unused. That's the positive out of all of this," Link said.

Link isn't sure when he will try to get an appointment again. He will take a break for now, he said.

Manitoba under pressure

Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for ages 18 and up in February, but the National Advisory Committee on Immunization more recently recommended its administration to people younger than 55 be suspended as it looked into reports of rare blood clots in some patients.

An Oxford study has since found the risk of blood clots from a COVID-19 infection is eight to 10 times higher than from a vaccine. The odds of getting a blood clot from a vaccine are estimated to be between one in 100,000 and one in 250,000.

Manitoba health officials had planned to wait for new recommendations from the national immunization committee before changing eligibility but was under widespread pressure to act quickly due to high AstraZeneca supply.

Smith said the province is fine-tuning the AstraZeneca distribution chain for future shipments, and busier pharmacies and clinics will soon get more doses.

Manitoba changed recommendations on the ages eligible for vaccination with the AstraZeneca-Oxford product on Monday, lowering the age to 40. (Rémi Authier/Radio-Canada)

Smith expects about 5,000 people a day will be innoculated, using up the supply of AstraZeneca within a week.

In addition to the AstraZeneca change, the province lowered the age of eligibility for general vaccination appointments to anyone 54 and older on Monday, and for First Nations people 34 and older. 

Those appointments are for vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which are administered at vaccination sites like the downtown Winnipeg convention centre supersite. 


Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

With files from Bartley Kives