Manitoba pharmacists 'super excited' to be pitching in with COVID-19 vaccine effort

Jessica Burton doesn't like needles, but she overcame her anxiety Wednesday to receive her first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from her pharmacist.

Officials prioritized some people for AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, but pharmacists may use best judgment

Jessica Burton, 59, received her first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at her pharmacy Wednesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Jessica Burton doesn't like needles, but she overcame her anxiety Wednesday to receive her first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from her pharmacist.

Burton, a 59-year-old Métis woman living in Winnipeg, is within the eligible age range for vaccination and has other underlying health conditions. With variant strains of the novel coronavirus circulating and a young daughter to care for, getting her shot was the right choice, she said.

"I want to take the needle to make sure I stay safe," said Burton, who told CBC News afterward that the shot was not as bad as she expected.

Burton was among the first people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from a pharmacist in Manitoba — but there are many others who want it.

Manitoba received its first shipment of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine doses March 9, and started sending the 18,000 doses to 190 clinics and pharmacies across the province, where they will be administered.

Most of those doses — 11,200 — will be sent to 118 locations in Winnipeg, but all of Manitoba's health regions have at least a few sites included in the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine rollout.

Manitoba received 18,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine on March 9. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"[Pharmacists are] just super excited to be involved in this process and to be helping Manitobans get vaccinated," said Ashley Ewasiuk, vice-president of Pharmacists Manitoba, the advocacy body for pharmacists in the province.

Pharmacists will try to limit their immunizations to the two priority groups, she said, but there may be times where they make a judgment call based on a patient's medical history.

Public health officials created two priority groups for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine rollout. First Nations people from 30 to 64 are eligible, as are non-First Nations people aged 50-64. Underlying conditions or vulnerabilities will distinguish whether a person is Priority 1 or Priority 2.

But that list of medical conditions — which ranges from diabetes to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to malignant hematologic disorders such as leukemia, among many others — is not exhaustive "because it would be miles long," Ewasiuk said.

"There are situations where you have to give your clinical judgment," she said.

"If they know the patient well and would deem that the patient is high risk for severe outcomes from contracting COVID-19, then it would be appropriate for that individual to be vaccinated at this point," she said. The person would still have to meet the age criteria.

There will be times when pharmacists may have to make a judgment call about who should be vaccinated, said Ashley Ewasiuk, vice-president of Pharmacists Manitoba. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Jason Hoeppner, owner and pharmacist of the Medicine Shoppe on Osborne Street in Winnipeg, said his pharmacy received 50 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine on Friday.

"We're getting a lot of phone calls," he said.

About 40 of the doses were used when he spoke with CBC News Wednesday — and there are roughly 1,100 people on the pharmacy's wait list for the shot.

"Fifty doses is not a lot, so we're trying to make sure that the people who need it the most will be the ones who get it," he said.

WATCH | Pharmacies join AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine rollout:

Pharmacies join AstraZeneca-Oxford rollout

1 year ago
Duration 2:16
It's been a few days since Manitoba pharmacies started doling out the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. But for some pharmacists it's a juggle to decide who gets it and when.

The Medicine Shoppe hasn't had to go outside the priority patients list, he said; there were barely enough doses to immunize any Priority 2 patients.

Hoeppner is unsure when more doses will arrive but looks forward to receiving them. The Medicine Shoppe learned that it lost a patient to COVID-19 last week, so there is extra motivation to help as many people as possible, he said.

Ewasiuk manages Northway Pharmacy in Winnipeg's River Heights area. Her pharmacy is not receiving one of the first shipments of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, but it is an approved site, she said.

Ewasiuk and her staff are reviewing their patient files to see who should be contacted once doses are received and developing a solid work plan to ensure administering doses goes smoothly, she said.

"At the end of the day, we just want everyone to remember that everybody is trying to do their best and that we want to get everyone vaccinated who wants to be vaccinated as quickly as possible," said Ewasiuk.

"We just ask that everybody wait their appropriate turn until they meet the eligibility criteria," she said, which makes things easier for pharmacists as well.

If anyone has questions, however, they are welcome to call and ask, she said.


Nicholas Frew is an online reporter with CBC Edmonton who focuses mainly on data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at

With files from Sam Samson