New Brunswick

Pharmacists take over COVID-19 shots as province shuts down vaccine clinics

As of today, pharmacists will be administering nearly all COVID-19 vaccinations after mass vaccination clinics conducted by the regional health authorities were closed Thursday. 

Regional health authority mass immunization clinics ended on Thursday

As of April 1, pharmacists will deliver nearly all COVID-19 vaccination shots in the province. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

As of Friday, pharmacists will be administering nearly all COVID-19 shots after mass vaccination clinics conducted by the regional health authorities were shut down on Thursday. 

Jake Reid, the executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists Association, said pharmacists are ready. 

Reid said his organization was notified weeks ago about the plan. With the demand for vaccinations waning, he said there was no longer a need for the mass clinics. 

"And we need those regional health authority staff to return to their regular jobs," Reid said in an interview on Friday, the first day of the new delivery system. 

Roughly 190 of the province's 233 pharmacies will continue to deliver vaccinations. At the peak of delivery, 208 participated. 

Based on current demand, Reid said pharmacies are equipped to deal with the workload. Last week, for example, about 2,000 people got vaccinated in the province — that works out to about 300 per day. 

Jake Reid, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association, says pharmacists are prepared to handle the expected demand for COVID vaccinations. (Submitted by Jake Reid)

"So the number of pharmacies that we have can certainly accommodate those people who are still looking for their vaccines," Reid said.

At the peak of the province's vaccination delivery, about 80,000 shots were administered per week — with pharmacies delivering about 45 per cent of them. 

Even with a fourth dose likely on the horizon, Reid expects that pharmacists will be able to handle the expected surge. 

"We do expect that the pharmacies will be able to accommodate all those appointments … and if not, public health has said that it can reactivate some of those mass clinics if required."

Reid said "no parameters" have been established yet that would trigger the reopening of mass clinics by the health authorities.

He suspects that if demand exceeds the delivery capability of pharmacies, public health could reactivate clinics for a short period of time in areas of the province where they're needed. 

Working on a plan for fourth doses

At the moment, Reid said his association hasn't been given any guidance about fourth doses. He said the province is waiting for guidance from NACI, National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Some specific demographic groups have already received fourth doses, but so far, there is no concrete plan for opening up fourth doses to the rest of the population. 

"As soon as we hear from government, then we'll start to activate our plan," said Reid. 

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said officials in her department are currently reviewing the data in order to come up with a plan to deliver fourth doses to New Brunswickers. 

"For immunocompromised individuals, a primary series is now considered three doses," Shephard said in an emailed statement.

"A booster dose (i.e. 4th dose) of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine can be booked for an immunocompromised individual if at least five months has passed since their 3rd dose and they are 12 years of age and older. A declaration of eligibility form is not needed to book a 4th dose."

There are a number of ways to make appointments with a pharmacy.

The easiest way, said Reid, is to go to the province's list of participating pharmacies. Some pharmacies have online registration, while others only take appointments by phone. 

Based on current demand, Reid said waiting times are very short, and some pharmacies are offering walk-in clinics. 

Sending the wrong message – or no message

Meanwhile, New  Brunswick's opposition leaders have accused the government of doing too little to promote vaccinations.

Green Party Leader David Coon said the government already "dropped the ball on the third dose, so I don't have a lot of confidence that we'd see a big uptake of the fourth dose." 

Barely half of eligible New Brunswickers, or 51.2 per cent, have received a third dose, according to the most recently updated numbers on the provincial COVID-19 dashboard.

Coon said "we haven't seen the kind of campaign and measures put in place to ensure that the third dose was promoted and advocated for in an effective way."

Green Party Leader David Coon says the government has "dropped the ball" on messaging about the importance of vaccinations. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

He said the province needs a "massive campaign" to remind people of the importance of getting fully vaccinated. 

He also said the "totally wrong message" was sent to the public when vaccine mandates were not updated to include booster doses once they became available. 

"And with Omicron, we know the third dose is essential if you want to avoid serious problems."

Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson said the government is also sending the wrong message by shutting down regional health authority vaccination clinics.

He called it "a perfect signal that they don't really put a lot of emphasis in this fourth dose, or the second booster."

The government "needs to be way much more aggressive in promoting" vaccinations, Melanson said. 

Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson said New Brunswick needs to be "much more aggressive in promoting" vaccinations. (Pascal Raiche-Nogue/Radio-Canada)

In a press conference Friday morning with the other party leaders, Premier Blaine Higgs said the province will "ramp up" its message to the public that vaccines and boosters are still important. 

The Department of Health was asked how it will continue to encourage people to get vaccinated, but a response to CBC News from the department on Friday afternoon did not address the question. 

Unintended messaging

Ontario infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness said now is not the time to ease the message about the importance of vaccinations. 

Furness believes governments are already sending the wrong message by scaling back testing and monitoring. He said people begin to believe the danger has passed and there's no longer a need to be vaccinated. 

"And that is a huge mistake," Furness said. "Vaccination remains one of the most important things we can do to keep the population safe, especially vulnerable people within the population." 

For those who may still be holding out on getting a shot, Furness many are putting too much faith in natural immunity, which "is not all it's cracked up to be." 

"The fact of the matter is that immunity and the epidemiology of COVID continues to change," he said.

"So there's a lot of uncertainty not only about vaccination immunity, but natural immunity. And natural immunity doesn't seem to actually have much persistent benefit. It's certainly not worth the risk."

Furness said a small percentage of the population hasn't been vaccinated because they're afraid of the side effects of the vaccine. 

"Typically, the kinds of side effects that can happen through vaccination also happen with COVID — only much worse."

He said the threat of the disease is always worse than the threat of the vaccine, "which is why vaccines have been approved."

Furness worries that with governments easing restrictions and getting rid of mass vaccination clinics, people are picking up on the narrative that COVID is like the flu or a cold.

COVID is so much worse, he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Urquhart is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick, based in Saint John. She can be reached at mia.urquhart@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now