The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada sits ready for use at The Michener Institute in Toronto on December 14, 2020. As Canada’s vaccination effort scales up to millions of people, pharmacies are pushing to get involved, pitching their expansive networks and experience with vaccine distribution as potential selling points. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada sits ready for use at The Michener Institute in Toronto on December 14, 2020. As Canada’s vaccination effort scales up to millions of people, pharmacies are pushing to get involved, pitching their expansive networks and experience with vaccine distribution as potential selling points. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Pharmacies push to join COVID-19 vaccination effort as distribution ramps up

So far government has tightly controlled distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

MONTREAL — Pharmacies are pushing to get involved in Canada’s vaccination effort, pitching their expansive networks and experience with vaccine distribution as potential selling points.

Nationwide chains Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. and London Drugs Ltd. say they have had conversations with the federal and provincial governments about co-operating on vaccine distribution once the doses become more widely available, although there are currently no plans to do so.

“Pharmacies are ready and willing right now to help with that injection of those COVID vaccines,” said Chris Chiew, general manager of pharmacy for London Drugs. “We reach every single corner of each province of all of Canada, and by having all pharmacists involved, you’re actually able to get a larger percentage of the population in a faster period of time.”

A partnership with pharmacies could be a welcome opportunity for provincial health authorities in Canada, which face the daunting logistical task of distributing tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccinations in 2021.

So far, the government has tightly controlled distribution of COVID-19 vaccines since the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were administered in Canada on Dec. 14. But the federal government’s approval of Moderna’s vaccine last week, along with the expected approval of a number of other vaccine candidates in the coming months, means the distribution effort will soon ramp up.

The federal government has said it expects immunization for the general population to begin in April 2021. Ultimately, provincial health authorities are responsible for deciding how to distribute the vaccine to their residents, and the actual rollout could work differently in varying parts of the country.

The pharmacies’ outreach comes as they have embraced an increasing role in public health in recent years, expanding their businesses beyond just filling prescriptions. The result has been a new area of growth for the pharmacies’ bottom lines as they include vaccines and other basic health services such as travel health consultations among their offerings.

What began with flu shots has now broadened to include travel vaccines and immunizations against other diseases like shingles, said Jeff Leger, president of Shoppers Drug Mart.

“The role of the pharmacist has been changing,” Leger said.

Pharmacies’ experience with distributing vaccines means they have already figured out many of the logistical challenges associated with the COVID-19 shots, Chiew and Leger said, from keeping the doses cold in transit to ensuring that pharmacists are properly trained in how to administer them.

Pharmacies also have digital notification systems in place for communicating with their clients, which could be useful for staying in touch with vaccine recipients, the vast majority of whom will have to return for a second shot about a month after their initial dose.

Consumers may ultimately prefer receiving their shot at a nearby pharmacy instead of a larger clinic, said Kelly Grindrod, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s school of pharmacy. Pharmacies have become the default option for many people looking to get vaccines, Grindrod said, a shift from a decade ago, when people mostly got them at doctors’ offices.

That shift in attitudes could make pharmacies an attractive distribution channel, since governments will want to make the vaccination process as frictionless as possible to encourage people to go, she added.

“Convenience is a big thing when you’re vaccinating people,” Grindrod said.

An alternative to using pharmacies would be to offer the vaccine at a smaller set of locations run by provincial health authorities, similar to how COVID-19 testing has been administered in Canada, said Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.

Culbert said it would be cheaper and more efficient to distribute the vaccine that way, since it would cut down on the logistical costs of delivering the doses to more locations. Having pharmacists inject the vaccine as opposed to public health workers would also be more expensive, since they are paid per shot administered, he said.

“I’m not saying pharmacies couldn’t do it,” Culbert said. “I’m saying a concentration of our resources through a centralized stream of vaccination clinics is the way to go.”

Chiew and Leger both cited their pharmacies’ efforts distributing the flu vaccine in the midst of the pandemic as an example of how they could be effective partners with governments for rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine.

With the exception of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has to be kept at extra-low temperatures, the vaccines in development can all be handled and distributed like ordinary flu shots, Chiew and Leger said.

Neither London Drugs nor Shoppers expects to have a major role in distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which until a week ago was the only COVID vaccine approved in Canada. Still, London Drugs has purchased several specialized freezers, each of which ranges in price from $10,000 to $20,000, in case the company is called on to handle the vaccine, Chiew said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2020.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police have charged two men after they allegedly tried to break into the Bentley post office with a semi. (Photo courtesy of RCMP)
Red Deer men charged in Bentley post office destruction

Police have charged a pair of Red Deer men after an attempted… Continue reading

Red Deer Fire Chief Ken McMullen remains concerned about “inconsistencies” in the province’s new way of dispatching local ambulances. (Advocate file photo).
A few glitches are already noticed in Red Deer’s new ambulance dispatch system

Local fire-medics need more data about ambulance arrival times

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province still hopes to bring the hospitalization number down before relaxing restrictions. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
14 new deaths, 366 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Province nearing 100K COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Cervus Equipment is planning to set up a new location near Highways 2 and 42 in Red Deer County. Graphic contributed
Cervus Equipment eyeing new Red Deer County location

Farm equipment busy looking to set up near Highways 2 and 42

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

‘Stories the numbers tell’: Critics ask why Alberta sat on coal contamination data

‘Stories the numbers tell’: Critics ask why Alberta sat on coal contamination data

This undated photo provided by the Polk County Sheriff's Office, in Florida, shows Joshua Colon. On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, officials said that Colon, who had been recently named “Paramedic of the Year,” helped a supervisor steal COVID-19 vaccines meant for first responders. (Polk County Sheriff's Office via AP)
‘Paramedic of the Year’ accused of helping to steal vaccine

‘Paramedic of the Year’ accused of helping to steal vaccine

FILE - In this July 31, 2019, file photo, migrants return to Mexico, using the Puerta Mexico bridge that crosses the Rio Grande river in Matamoros, Mexico, on the border with Brownsville, Texas. A federal judge on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, barred the U.S. government from enforcing a 100-day deportation moratorium that is a key immigration priority of President Joe Biden. U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton issued a temporary restraining order sought by Texas, which sued on Friday against a Department of Homeland Security memo that instructed immigration agencies to pause most deportations. Tipton said the Biden administration had failed “to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations.” (AP Photo/Emilio Espejel, File)
Judge bars Biden from enforcing 100-day deportation ban

Judge bars Biden from enforcing 100-day deportation ban

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2021, file photo, registered Nurse Shyun Lin, left, administers Alda Maxis, 70, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in the William Reid Apartments in the Brooklyn borough of New York. An increasing number of COVID-19 vaccination sites around the U.S. are canceling appointments because of vaccine shortages in a rollout so rife with confusion and unexplained bottlenecks. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool, File)
US boosting vaccine deliveries amid complaints of shortages

US boosting vaccine deliveries amid complaints of shortages

In this image from video, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the president pro tempore of the Senate, who is presiding over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, swears in members of the Senate for the impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)
GOP largely sides against holding Trump impeachment trial

GOP largely sides against holding Trump impeachment trial

People make their way through floodwaters in Beira Mozambique, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. The Mozambican port city of Beira breathed a sigh of relief as Cyclone Eloise caused less damage than feared as it passed through, but the danger of flooding remained in a region still recovering from a devastating cyclone two years ago. (AP Photo)
UN: 250,000 people affected by Cyclone Eloise in Mozambique

UN: 250,000 people affected by Cyclone Eloise in Mozambique

This image released by the Sundance Institute shows Rita Moreno in a scene from "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It," an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (Sundance Institute via AP)
With many hungry for content, Sundance market heats up

With many hungry for content, Sundance market heats up

FILE - Actor Danny Huston attends the National Board of Review awards gala in New York on Jan. 8, 2019. Growing up in Ireland, one of his favorite memories was when his father, director John Huston, would bring out the projector and they’d gather around to watch his films. “The Maltese Falcon” was always a highlight. Now the film is celebrating its 80th anniversary. It’s returning to theaters through Fathom Events for a limited engagement on Wednesday. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
‘The Maltese Falcon’ returns to theatres at ripe age of 80

‘The Maltese Falcon’ returns to theatres at ripe age of 80

Most Read