Pharmacists scramble to use leftover Moderna doses before expiry

Pharmacists across Ontario say they're scrambling on a daily basis to administer doses of the Moderna vaccine before they go to waste, with many wanting Pfizer instead.

Public perception of branding and fear of dose mixing part of the problem, say pharmacists

Pharmacists across Ontario say people are turning down doses of the Moderna vaccine. That's left them scrambling to make sure none go to waste. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Pharmacists across Ontario say they're scrambling on a daily basis to administer doses of the Moderna vaccine before they go to waste, with many people wanting Pfizer-BioNTech instead.

"People are sort of fixated on Pfizer," said Jordan Clark, owner of a Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy in Ottawa's west end.

Clark said many people continue to be uncomfortable with the idea of dose mixing between Pfizer and Moderna, despite guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) which says it's safe to combine the mRNA vaccines.

There are about 14 doses of Moderna in every vial. Once a vial is opened, it's good for about a day, which has put a time crunch on pharmacists who are trying to get doses in arms before they go to waste.

"It's a lot of manning the phones, a lot of kind of convincing people that Moderna is just as good," Clark said.

Clark's pharmacy has only been offering Moderna for a week because of the slowdown in shipments of Pfizer. So far, only four doses have gone to waste, but Clark said making sure that doesn't happen more often is "pretty much a daily occurrence."

Ottawa residents still ‘vaccine shopping,’ this time for second doses, pharmacist says

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Jordan Clark, owner of a Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy, says many people are still looking for a specific vaccine when making an appointment to receive a second dose.

Jen Baker with Loyalist Pharmacy just west of Kingston, Ont., said while no doses have gone to waste yet, there are dozens of people on a waitlist for the Pfizer vaccine.

Baker said her team has been working "pretty aggressively" to get doses in arms when people cancel or choose not to book for Moderna.

"It can become frustrating at times where even though you're providing that information and those recommendations and they're coming from trusted sources, that we still have people that are worried," Baker said.

People 'melting down' when offered Moderna 

"We have heard instances of people literally melting down and being very abusive in a pharmacy because they find out it's Moderna over Pfizer," said Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.

While Bates didn't have specifics over how many doses of Moderna may have been thrown out across the province, he said people's acceptance of the vaccine seem to be slowly improving.

"We would hope to continue to reinforce that in the days and weeks ahead," he said.

For its part, health authorities like Ottawa Public Health (OPH) said it's aware of only a small number of people who have turned down the Moderna vaccine.

"However this has not led to any doses of Moderna going to waste," it said in email to CBC. It has a waitlist of people that can be contacted if there are any extra doses available at the end of the day.

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