'Miscommunication' leaves hundreds of Sask. pharmacies without COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday

Delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 250 pharmacies across the province have been delayed a day until Thursday.

As many as 7,000 vaccination appointments could be impacted by delay

Pharmacy technician Heron Roach prepares doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary clinic at the Woodbine racetrack and casino, in northeast Toronto, on May 5, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

An "unfortunate miscommunication" left more than 250 pharmacies notifying patients that the COVID-19 vaccine appointment they booked for Wednesday will no longer go ahead. 

A planned delivery of the highly-coveted vaccine doses will not be available on Wednesday as pharmacies expected, according to an email obtained by CBC Saskatchewan.

The note, sent from a health ministry email, says a miscommunication between the province's drug plan and extended benefits branch (DPEBB) and McKesson, a pharmaceutical distributor, means that the doses will instead arrive on Thursday.

"The DPEBB apologizes for any inconveniences to all affected pharmacies and patients as a result of this rescheduling," the email reads. 

An email obtained by CBC Saskatchewan indicates a miscommunication is the cause of delays in vaccine delivery on May 12, 2021. (Submitted)

The health ministry told CBC Saskatchewan that during the initial stages of its pharmacy vaccine administration pilot program, which began in late April, doses of the Pfizer vaccine were delivered on Thursdays. 

"There was a plan to shift the delivery day to Wednesday this week, but there was a miscommunication that meant this week's shipment was still scheduled for Thursday," a spokesperson for the ministry said in an emailed statement. 

"It resulted in a one-day delivery delay, and processes have been improved to ensure such delays as a result of delivery do not happen again."

As many as 259 pharmacies across the province did not receive expected doses on Wednesday morning. 

The province estimates as many as 7,000 vaccination appointments could be impacted, although it will depend on how many bookings each pharmacy had scheduled.

It has left many pharmacists and their patients "frustrated," according to Dawn Martin, the CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan, a non-profit that represents pharmacists and pharmacies in the province. 

"Pharmacists are no different than any other health provider out there. There are lots of pressure, lots of stress, lots of quick movement, lots of pivot happening because of the pandemic," she said in a video interview Wednesday morning.

Saskatchewan Pharmacists are rolling up their sleeves. Not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but to start administering it. Some Saskatchewan residents will be able to book appointments at their local pharmacy by the end of the month. Host Leisha Grebinski speaks with Dawn Martin, CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan. 7:27

Despite some frustration, many patients had been very understanding when informed of the delay, Martin said. 

The purpose of the pharmacy pilot was to increase access to vaccines in the general public and vaccinate pharmacy and grocery staff working in the facilities where the vaccines were being offered. 

As of Monday, 368 pharmacies in 111 communities are part of the program.

Appointments at pharmacies aren't scheduled through a centralized system, as they are with appointments done by the province.

Instead, pharmacies can choose how they do their booking as long as it complies with the current provincial age guidelines on COVID-19 vaccinations.

That arrangement put the onus on pharmacies to notify customers of the cancellations Wednesday. 

"I know that they wish that it hadn't happened. But bottom line is these things happen and we're just going to move on and continue the good work that pharmacies do," Martin said. 

The one-day delay isn't expected to have a long-lasting effect on the program. 

There may initially be ripple effects as people get their appointments rebooked and pharmacists work to deal with the doses that are arriving, Martin said, but nothing long-term. 

"Plans are already underway to help things go smoother, to make sure that, you know, that the time frame and the deliveries and everything like that are going as predicted," she said. 


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