More hiccups during 2nd week of COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Alberta

Some pharmacies are able to order the Moderna shots but not the Pfizer version. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/The Associated Press - image credit)
Some pharmacies are able to order the Moderna shots but not the Pfizer version. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/The Associated Press - image credit)

Alberta has yet to iron out all the wrinkles in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, pharmacists say.

After concerns emerged about cancelled appointments last week, the provincial government said it would increase its ordering limit for pharmacies from 100 doses per week to 350 doses, starting Monday.

And while some stores report the situation has improved and they have enough stock, others say there are still problems.

"Challenging. Frustrating. There's many adjectives I could use," said Ian Kruger, pharmacist and owner at Two Pharmacy in Cochrane, when asked to describe the vaccine rollout.

He spent three hours on the phone Tuesday trying to sort out his weekly COVID-19 vaccine order. When the delivery arrived Wednesday, it included 200 Moderna doses and no Pfizer at all.

"We have the ability to vaccinate many more people than what we were given vaccine for, which is very unfortunate because we could be protecting more people," he said.

The updated shots first became available to the general public on Oct. 16.

McKesson Canada, a main distributor, told CBC News last week that Pfizer was available and shipments had started.

CBC News reached out again this week and was told McKesson has COVID vaccines in stock and is shipping "as fast as we receive them."

Health Canada said Alberta has ordered and received 1,047,710 doses, including 696,350 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 351,360 of Pfizer. That is unchanged since last week.

Pfizer's formulation was approved in late September, a few weeks after Moderna's.

Jason Chan Remillard woke up at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday to ensure he got his store's weekly order in.

"All I was guaranteed was my 300 shots of Moderna, but there was no Pfizer shots — even though I know they say they're fully stocked with vaccine," he said.

Chan Remillard, the pharmacist/owner at the Calgary's Brentwood Pharmasave, said he ran out of vaccine after the first day last week.

He estimates he could give out about 500 shots a week.

"I personally think demand is a bit higher than what was anticipated. It was kind of a wild card because no one was sure what would happen."

Chan Remillard said most customers are understanding.

But, he said, workloads are up because a lot of people have to come in twice — once for their flu shot and again for the COVID vaccine — rather than getting them at the same time.

His staff is spending a lot of time explaining the supply issues to customers, answering phone calls and rebooking appointments.

"It's double the work for us, right? Because we're dealing with lines again."

According to Chan Remillard, the lack of Pfizer stock adds another challenge because some people are what he calls "brand loyal" and only want that particular shot.

"I tell people it's a different vaccine. It's not a booster. It's kind of ideal to get what we have," he said.

"I've been assuming, based on previous communications, that I'd be getting both Pfizer and Moderna. And now, yet again, I have to tell people that came in hoping to get Pfizer that that didn't happen. And 'sorry to let you down again but now we have Moderna and it's the best I can do.'"

CBC reached out to the Alberta government for a response but did not hear back before publication time.