Demand 'through the roof' for AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after age limit drops, pharmacist says

A Toronto pharmacist says demand for the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is "through the roof" after the Ontario government lowered the minimum age limit for the shot from 55 to 40.

Ontarians 40 to 55 take to Twitter to celebrate their generation getting the jab

Betsy Hilton, 42, posted this photo of herself on Twitter after getting the first dose of AstraZeneca and said in a tweet: 'Huge thanks to science. To #AstraZenaca. To the healthcare community. And to my awesome local pharmacy.' She added: 'Walking to the pharmacy, listening to Beastie Boys ‘Sure Shot’. #vaxjam #AstraZenaca #GenX' (Submitted by Betsy Hilton)

A Toronto pharmacist says demand for the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is "through the roof" after the Ontario government lowered the minimum age limit for the shot from 55 to 40.

Kyro Maseh, owner and manager of Lawlor Pharmasave, said demand has been extremely high since the change took effect on Tuesday. On that day, public health units in Ontario administered a new single-day high of 136,695 doses of vaccines, according to the provincial health ministry. 

"In addition to the age being lowered, I feel that people are a bit more educated on the risks involved and they understand that it's really minute and insignificant. Yes, very, very high demand," Maseh said on Wednesday.

Other provinces, namely B.C., Alberta and Manitoba, have also lowered their age limits to 40- plus after the federal government said Sunday eligibility for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine could be expanded to any adult over the age of 18.

Maseh was worried that his doses were going to expire on the weekend because the 55-plus age group was not making appointments, but everything changed after the age was lowered.

On Tuesday, he allowed front-line workers to get their first dose without an appointment, vaccinating about 84 essential workers who walked in that day. He said his vaccine supply will be depleted by the end of Wednesday after he will have vaccinated about 60 people. He doesn't know when he will get more supply.

"The majority have been under 55," Maseh said.

Lawlor Pharmasave has made a video to mark its 1,000th dose. Maseh said the pharmacy felt it was a cause for celebration that 1,000 people will not end up in intensive care units due to COVID-19.

Pharmacist Kyro Maseh prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at his pharmacy in Toronto on Tuesday. Toronto pharmacies began administering the vaccine to people born in 1981 and up on Tuesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"We've been getting a lot of phone calls. We've been getting a lot of emails, Twitter messages, carrier pigeons, you name it. But we're using our booking systems," he added. 

"And some people are angry at the fact that we only have 50 or 60 doses in stock today. But just be patient, be patient, we will get to you as soon as we can."

'No hesitancy here, that's for sure'

The uptick in the number of vaccinations is being marked across social media, under the hashtag #GenXZeneca, as 40 to 55 year olds embrace the opportunity to get their first dose.

According to Twitter posts, lots of people in this age group seem to be heeding the call to get vaccinated, despite concerns about the possibility of rare blood clots.

WATCH | CBC's Angelina King reports on why Generation X is embracing AstraZeneca:

Generation X celebrates chance to get vaccine

2 years ago
Duration 2:21
Since the age limit for AstraZeneca was dropped from 55 to 40, there's been a huge demand for the vaccine. CBC's Angelina King reports on why Generation X may become known as Generation Jab.

Betsy Hilton, 42, a consultant in Toronto, said her friends immediately texted each other when they learned they were eligible. She said she thinks people in her generation were willing to wait their turn if they weren't essential workers or in any high-risk categories.

"And then suddenly it just was our turn. And that was really exciting," she said. "No hesitancy here, that's for sure."

Hilton said there has been "this incredible mobilization of people in our generation so excited to get vaccinated and to do their part. And I think we're all here for it and we're all coming together."

She said it's been a busy and stressful year for 40-somethings and the vaccine is a way to get back to life before the pandemic. 

"We're at a really interesting stage of life and a challenging stage of life. Many of us have kids, many of us have aging parents. And it's been a really worrying time for us," she said.

"The opportunity to get vaccinated, the opportunity to get back to being together again and get back to some semblance of normal life and mostly to get back to a place where we're not worried all the time, I think has been a huge sort of rallying point for this generation." 

'We know what risk is and this is not it'

Hilton said getting the AstraZeneca vaccine is an acceptable risk. "This is safe. Science is good," she said. "We know what risk looks like and this is not it."

She said being comfortable around technology has helped 40-somethings book their spots. "If you've ever tried to register for swimming lessons in through the city, we know how to get online and try to get those spots. Everyone jumped on board."

Stephanie Bolton, 44, posted this photo of herself on Twitter after she got the first dose of AstraZeneca on April 20. She said in a tweet: 'Got my AZ vaccine yesterday. So glad to be part of a cohort that is fearless and doing the right thing for the country. I took AZ so someone who's hesitant can pick a vaccine. We got your backs, Boomers!' (Submitted by Stephanie Bolton)

Stephanie Bolton, 44, a teacher in York Region, agreed, saying it's a matter of weighing the risk versus reward. People aged 40 to 55 are enthusiastic about getting vaccinated and have embraced AstraZeneca, she said.

"It's been kind of held up in the 55 plus age category, where they were more nervous. They were kind of hoping for Moderna or Pfizer. But we were just like: 'Give us a vaccine!'"

Association says vaccine hesitancy declining steadily

Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, a non-profit organization that has been tracking the pandemic's social and economic impacts, said the percentage of people who are vaccine hesitant in Canada has been steadily declining across all age groups.

There was a higher rate of hesitation a few months ago, he said. Part of the decline is due to a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, which has increased collective anxiety, he added. That in turn has increased a sense of urgency to get vaccinated.

Ontario, B.C., Alberta and Manitoba have lowered their age limits for the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine to 40 plus after the federal government said on Sunday that the provinces and territories were free to expand eligibility for it to any adult over the age of 18. (Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images)

A survey done by the association last week shows that about 80 per cent of Canadians, a record number, are willing to get vaccinated. People in the upper age groups, 55 and older, are the least hesitant, while people in the lower age groups, 35 and younger, are the most hesitant.

About 12 per cent say no to the vaccine, while about eight per cent say they don't know if they will get vaccinated.

As for people in the 40 to 55 age group, he said: "As we get closer to bringing that age group into the proverbial mix with respect to their eligibility for vaccination, the hesitation seems to decline even further, because there's been a bit of a snowball effect.

"As more and more people have gotten vaccinated, more and more people have been put at ease about their concerns with respect to either side effects or long-term effects of vaccination."

With files from Angelina King