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B.C. pharmacy vaccine rollout leading to frustration over lack of central booking system

B.C.’s multi-pronged rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has left frontline workers and eligible adults wondering why there isn’t a centralized system that allows them to easily book an appointment.

When the province lowered the minimum age for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to 40 on Monday, there were approximately 190,000 available doses. 

The doses that had been given to pharmacies were quickly snapped up by people making appointments.

British Columbians have since taken to social media to share their elation at getting a shot, or their frustration at the time-consuming booking process.

“You certainly have to be very persistent,” said Surrey resident Kim Greefhorst who added herself to eight pharmacy wait lists. “I feel like there should be a better way to do that, some kind of central way of kind of being on a list.”

The 48-year-old eventually got an appointment Wednesday by calling a smaller independent pharmacy after spending over an hour filling out similar forms on multiple pharmacies’ websites.

CBC News heard from dozens of British Columbians frustrated at having to register at multiple pharmacies with no success.

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B.C. health officials say there have been delays in April shipments of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which is out of the province’s control. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Postal code search tools

B.C. has a list of pharmacies approved to administer AstraZeneca doses, but many of them are currently out of supply and there’s no way to tell without calling each one individually.

Other provinces like Manitoba, have made it easy to find pharmacies that still have supply. Quebec and Ontario have postal code search tools and Alberta allows users to narrow their search based on whether they want a walk-in or a scheduled appointment.

B.C.’s Ministry of Health did not answer questions from CBC News about why it doesn’t have a centralized booking tool like other provinces in time for publication.

Taking the time to register to multiple wait lists and being available for last minute walk-in appointments is also not an option for many frontline workers.

The president of the 1018 local of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, including grocery store workers, says some of members reported being less likely to get vaccinated if it meant missing out on work pay.

“Hopefully now that they’ll have up to those three hours of pay [to get vaccinated] that will ensure people are making those appointments,” said Kim Novak. 

Increase in demand meets supply shortage

The swell in demand since eligibility was lowered is also being met with a shortage in supply in pharmacies as doses of AstraZeneca are redirected to hotspot communities with high rates of transmission.

Health officials say there have been delays in April shipments of AstraZeneca, which is out of the province’s control.

“We know the government of Canada is working strenuously to get access to more vaccine, ” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday. “We’re hopeful we’ll get more in the next little while.”

Henry encouraged people to continue to register for their COVID-19 vaccine through the province’s separate age-based Get Vaccinated program run through public clinics even if they get an Astra-Zeneca shot from a pharmacy.

“Once you’re in the system it makes it much simpler to provide information for your second dose,” she said.

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