Sudbury

Northern Ontario could see vaccinations in pharmacies in a couple of weeks, OPA says

The head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association says work is underway to bring vaccines to the north in the next couple of weeks.

A total of 365 Ontario pharmacies being "on-boarded" in preparation to offer the AstraZeneca vaccine

Only the Astra-Zeneca vaccine is available through pharmacies as it requires simple refrigeration for storage. (Valentina Petrova/The Associated Press)

People in northern Ontario are looking at neighbours to the south and wondering why a pharmacy vaccination roll-out is happening there, but not up here.

The head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association says work is underway to bring vaccines to the north in the next couple of weeks.

"The first step of that is to get the vaccines that have been released from the U.S. government stockpile into the federal government. And once they've taken receipt of those vaccines, they will apportion a certain amount to the provinces," explained Justin Bates.

"We expect a sizeable amount will be allocated to Ontario."

While that happens, Bates says 365 pharmacies will be "on-boarded" in preparation to offer the AstraZeneca vaccine. Only the Astra-Zeneca vaccine is available through pharmacies as it requires simple refrigeration for storage.

"Our goal is to have coverage across all of the province to increase the equitable access to the vaccine," Bates said.

"We're still working to determine the exact number of pharmacies in each of the regions, but we'll have coverage and access in northern Ontario."

Determining which regions will get the vaccines is a collaborative effort with the local public health units and the Ministry of Health.

"We've set a certain criteria on how we select pharmacies and they have determined the number of stores that will be selected for each of the regions, based on population distribution outbreaks of the COVID-19," Bates said.

"And so what we would expect to see is sort of a minimum amount in population areas that are lower and then clusters of pharmacies in urban areas where there's outbreaks. But that will all be adjusted based on the data that's coming in."

"We're still working to determine the exact number of pharmacies in each of the regions, but we'll have coverage and access in northern Ontario," says Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association. (CBC)

That's a key line of sight they need in terms of determining next steps.

"It's really a two-pronged approach. We have to replenish the existing stores who have just given the first dose to ensure that we can get the second dose into those patients and then also ensuring there's enough supply for the new 365 stores," Bates said.

"And that 365 is going to multiply, real quick. Because by the end of April, we're planning to add another 800 stores across the province to bring us to a total of 1,500." 

Bates says their goal over the next two weeks is to have the additional 365 stores ready to go and to start putting needles in arms.

"I think for all health care providers that have been involved in this and also the general population, it's a very emotional time. It's an anxious time, having gone through a year of the pandemic and knowing that getting vaccinated is our best hope to achieving herd immunity and moving beyond whatever our post pandemic world looks like," Bates said.

"I know when the pharmacists saw the first box of 500 doses come into their stores a couple of weeks ago, many were tearing up, just trying to take it all in."

He says his colleagues are proud to be part of the effort to vaccinate people.

"Because it really is a group effort with primary care physicians, and public health units running the mass immunization clinics," Bates said.

"We have a lot of passionate health care providers that are ready to do this. We just need to make sure we have the supply to create that capacity."

With files from Kate Rutherford

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