P.E.I. makes legal changes to let pharmacists give COVID-19 vaccine shots

The P.E.I. government has made the changes in law required to allow pharmacists to provide vaccinations that can protect Islanders against COVID-19. But that alone won't put them in the position to start delivering shots.

Enlisting them will require a vaccine that can be stored at warmer temperatures

Pharmacists in Canada have long been allowed to give flu shots; now the legal changes are in place to let P.E.I. pharmacists administer COVID-19 vaccines as well. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The P.E.I. government has made the changes in law required to allow pharmacists to provide vaccinations that can protect Islanders against COVID-19.

However, the body that governs pharmacists in the province says it could be a while before pharmacists start asking people to roll up their sleeves. 

Changes in regulations under the Regulated Health Professions Act will add COVID-19 to the list of diseases for which pharmacists on P.E.I. can provide vaccinations. (The others are diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, herpes zoster, human papillomavirua, influenza, pertussis, pneumococcal disease, rabies if before a bite, and tetanus.)

Those changes are scheduled to come into effect Saturday, Feb. 6.

About 170 Island pharmacists already have the certification to provide injections to patients 18 and older.

But the registrar of the P.E.I. College of Pharmacy has told CBC News that before any pharmacists can start offering COVID-19 vaccinations, they'll likely need Health Canada to approve a type of vaccine that's easier to store than the two which have been approved for use so far.

"The PEI College of Pharmacy does not anticipate that pharmacists in the community will be involved in the COVID-19 vaccination roll out to the public until vaccines are approved that do not have the storage and handling requirements of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Modera vaccines," Michelle Wyand said in an email. 

Storage temperature a critical factor

The recommended storage temperature for the Moderna vaccine is -20 C.

For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the recommended temperature is -70 C -- a stringent requirement that led to an offer from a local tuna processing facility to loan two ultra-low temperature freezers to the P.E.I. government.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 was the first to be approved for use in Canada, but requires deeply cold temperatures for storage. That would prevent P.E.I. pharmacists from being able to keep it on hand in their stores. (Robert Short/CBC)

Health Canada approval is pending for five other vaccines that could be supplied by vendors with which Canada has purchase deals in place. Of those, at least two -- one from Johnson & Johnson, the other from Novavax -- are expected to require storage at normal refrigerator temperatures, between 2 and 8 C.

(On Tuesday, the prime minister announced a plan to produce the Novavax vaccine at a new National Research Council biomanufacturing facility in Montreal. The facility is expected to begin operation this summer and be capable of producing 2 million doses per month.)

Pharmacies to play a part in phase two

Speaking at a recent meeting of P.E.I.'s Standing Committee on Health and Social Development, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said pharmacists could be part of the second phase of P.E.I.'s vaccine rollout, which is expected to take place between April and June.

She too said enlisting the help of pharmacists would depend on the approval of a vaccine that could be stored in that 2-8 C range.

P.E.I. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison told the standing committee on health and social development in January that pharmacists could be enlisted in stage two of the province's vaccine rollout. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

During phase two of the rollout, Morrison said P.E.I. could begin to see enough vaccine doses shipped here to "start to approach the demand" for vaccinations.

At that point, she said the province will look to expand the list of "vaccination partners" to help administer doses to include pharmacists and homecare nurses. 

Morrison noted that dentists had also offered to help but that assistance would not be required in the foreseeable future; using doctors, public health nurses and pharmacists, she said the province should be able to deliver 11,000 doses per week once enough vaccine is available.

Phase two of the rollout will provide shots for seniors aged 70 and up, and then people over 65, along with healthcare workers who weren't covered in the first phase and workers deemed "essential" by public health for the purposes of vaccinations  police, firefighters and utility workers.

Vaccines are expected to be available to the general public in phase three of the rollout, set to begin this summer.

More from CBC P.E.I.


Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.


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