Montreal pharmacist opens doors during off-hours to boost immunocompromised patients safely
Daron Basmadjian welcomed patients into his pharmacy one at a time on Saturday
On a frigid Saturday afternoon, Anjou resident Annie-Danielle Grenier drove 30 minutes to get a COVID-19 shot at a small, downtown Montreal pharmacy — and she says she would've driven 30 more if necessary.
"It's the only place I could get my booster shot safely," said the immunocompromised woman on her way out of Proxim Arto Basmadjian on Côte-des-Neiges Road.
That's where Montreal pharmacist Daron Basmadjian opened his doors Saturday to offer people with weakened immune systems a chance to get a booster shot in an environment that poses the lowest level of risk to the high-risk population.
"I really just wanted to offer a safe space for those types of people — people who have really been in hiding for two years and are afraid to go out and get their vaccine because they don't want to go to a large vaccine centre where there's lots of people milling about," said Basmadjian.
Normally closed on weekends, Basmadjian will be opening his pharmacy up every Saturday to immunocompromised patients and those they live with. One patient at a time will be permitted in the pharmacy to get their shot, and they will be able to stay in their car during the mandatory 15-minute observation period to limit the amount of time they spend indoors.
Basmadjian says air purifiers and continuous CO2 monitoring have been installed in his pharmacy. Patients are also able to keep their N95 mask on if they have one, which they are not allowed to do in major vaccination centres in Quebec.
"Nothing is no risk, but this is about as low as the risk can get," he said, adding his initiative is the best way to protect a community that has been forgotten in the vaccination process.
Basmadjian says many immunocompromised patients still haven't developed antibodies to COVID-19 despite having had three or four doses. In the face of the highly-contagious Omicron variant, he says having these people wait indoors in a 30-to-45 minute lineup with crowds of people puts them at significant risk.
The pharmacist says he got the idea to help the immunocompromised when he was looking for a safe place to vaccinate his father, who recently had a liver transplant.
"I thought to myself, 'well, I need to take care of him, but I can't take care of only him,'" he said. "There's lots of other people in the same situation."
One of those people was Armand de Mestral, who got his booster dose at the pharmacy on Saturday. He says the experience with Basmadjian was over quickly and made him feel safer than the only other alternative offered to him.
"Why would one want to stand in line if you're possibly going to be contaminated?" de Mestral said.
"I think this particular pharmacist is doing everyone a great service and im very grateful to him."
Since Basmadjian posted about his weekend clinic on Twitter, he says the response from the community and beyond has been overwhelming.
"Just [people] telling me 'I am so grateful to have somewhere or someone that is looking out for me,'" he said.
After his first day of operation on Saturday, he says he received two bottles of wine and a donation made in his name to his favourite charity.
Day 1 in the books.<br><br>CO2 levels never even above 600. <br><br>Helped protect immunocompromised people and their families.<br><br>Plus, received 2 bottles of wine and a donation made in my name to charity.<br><br>All in all, a great day!—@Balloonian
Going forward, Basmadjian says he hopes his initiative will prompt the provincial government to open clinics or offer time-slots specifically for immunocompromised patients.
Until then, patients are welcome to reach out to the pharmacist by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment for a Saturday.
"I'm going to keep doing this as long as I have to to keep these people safe," he said.
Based on reporting by Chloe Ranaldi