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Frustration as AstraZeneca COVID vaccine appointments hard to get on North Shore

Only two pharmacies on the North Shore given doses of vaccine and all appointments booked before they officially opened on Wednesday
Vaccination Clinic 03 MW web
Covid vaccination being administered at the North Vancouver Lloyd Avenue clinic location March 22.

Less than 24 hours after the government announced a special AstraZeneca vaccine rollout for people aged 55-65 at local pharmacies in the Lower Mainland, a number of people on the North Shore say they’ve had no luck getting appointments and question how the doses are being divvied up.

On Tuesday, the province revealed it would offering the AstraZeneca vaccine at 130 local pharmacies within the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions to people in that 10-year age group only.

Bookings were scheduled to start today, according to the government.

Sixty-two-year-old Grant Bowen of North Vancouver said he heard about the plan and was planning to call first thing. Then he got a call on Tuesday night from a friend who reported she had already called London Drugs and got an appointment.

By Wednesday morning, all London Drugs locations had already filled up their appointments.

“Due to an overwhelming response, all available vaccine appointments have been booked. We ask that customers refrain from calling our pharmacies directly to allow for the pharmacies to prepare for the vaccination process of the fully booked appointments,” stated a message on the website of the North Vancouver Lonsdale pharmacy. “If additional vaccinations become available, we will communicate information on where to book using our online booking tool.”

Bowen said he then tried the only other pharmacy listed as getting doses of the vaccine on the North Shore – Davies Pharmacy in North Vancouver – and just got a busy signal.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “You get your hopes up.”

Bowen said he’ll probably just wait for his age cohort now, rather than waste time trying to phone pharmacies directly.

Overall, he said, “I think B.C.’s done a fairly good job. It’s a desperate situation and people are going to act desperately.”

Barry Rueger, 65, had a similar experience. Rueger said he and his wife have been very careful to follow the COVID safety guidelines.

Rueger said he didn’t try calling until today. “I’m one of those people to tries to follow the rules,” he said.

Rueger said he called Davies Pharmacy for an hour before getting through shortly after 9 a.m. when he was told all 102 doses of the vaccine the pharmacy received had been booked already. “I don’t know why they couldn’t do this better than phoning random pharmacies,” he said.

Rueger said besides the inability to book a vaccine he’s found it frustrating to see people in their 30s getting vaccinated in the U.S. and parts of Canada while his wife, 75, has to wait at least another week to get a shot.

“I don’t understand how ski lift operators were considered more essential than I was,” he said.

Robyn Brown tried booking an appointment for her cousin Wednesday morning with similar results.

Brown said she plans to continue checking for appointments. “I’m of two minds,” she said. “I’m glad (vaccination) is finally happening.

“I just feel we’ve hit so many bumps along the way. Sometimes I feel like we’re taking a step forward and two back.”

The sudden announcement of the special AstraZeneca vaccine bookings comes after B.C. suspended the use of the vaccine for those under 55 amid global concerns it was linked to a small number of cases of blood clots in those who have received the jab. It was previously being targeted at those 65 and under because of an initial lack of data about its effectiveness in older people.

So far, there are only two North Shore pharmacies on the province’s list of 150 providing the AstraZeneca vaccine although communities with comparable populations, like Coquitlam, have many more. No pharmacies in rural areas of the North Shore-Coast Garibaldi health region – including Whistler and Squamish where cases have recently spiked – have been provided the AstraZeneca vaccine so far.

It’s also not clear so far how many doses of the vaccine each pharmacy is receiving.

One North Vancouver woman said she also tried phoning pharmacies in downtown Vancouver. One told her "they have no supply, have no idea when they will get any and that I should call again in a few days," she said. Another said they had a very limited supply that expires on Friday "so their appointments were also booked prior to the supposed start of today, March 31."

In an interview with Global's Richard Zussman provided to the North Shore News, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Wednesday the decision was made to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for 55-65 year olds after the national decision to suspend use of the vaccine on people younger than 55 on Monday.

Dix said the province had 13,500 doses of the vaccine that were about to expire that had to be used right away. "And so there are a limited number of appointments," he said. Dix said B.C. is expecting about 43,000 more doses of the vaccine to arrive on Friday.

But because of the limited supply, there will inevitably be some people in that age category who won't be able to get that vaccine, he said.

The B.C. government’s immunization plan had originally sought to immunize 320,000 essential workers outside of their age group using the AstraZeneca vaccine. That is currently on hold.

Meanwhile, the province’s age-based vaccine rollout using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is continuing. Currently, clinics in North and West Vancouver are only booking for those 73 and older. Dix said the reason the age of those eligible to receive vaccines has not been dropped this week is that B.C. added about 150,000 people considered extremely medical vulnerable to its eligibility lists.

Every younger age cohort also has a larger number of people in it, he said.