'We really should have a military-style sense of urgency around getting this done,' says NOTL pharmcist
The first of 11,000 doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine were injected into PEOPLE in Niagara on Wednesday – and it is a welcome but overdue development, says NOTL pharmacist Sean Simpson.
He just wishes the provincial and federal governments would show a lot more “urgency” when it comes to rolling out the vaccine to the front-line health care staff and those most vulnerable to COVID.
With the thousands of doses the government says Canada has already received, Simpson said a more imaginative approach to the rollout is in order.
“We really should have a military-style sense of urgency around getting this done. There's no reason, in my opinion, for any delay whatsoever,” he said in an interview.
“I think there can be much more grassroots preparation and mobilization of health care professionals that would expedite delivery to the wider swath of people and provide more protection, faster, so that we could get the economy back up and running.”
Niagara Region's first shipment of the much-anticipated vaccine arrived in St. Catharines on Tuesday as part of the first phase of the province's vaccine delivery. The shots will be given out over the next three weeks, officials said.
Niagara Health officials said health care workers, essential caregivers, and residents at long-term care and high-risk retirement homes will be among the first to get the COVID shots. It's not known when the vaccine will reach NOTL care homes.
On Wednesday, in a media briefing, provincial officials said their target is to provide the first dose of vaccines to all nursing home residents, staff and other essential workers by Feb. 15.
Following Ontario's vaccination guidelines, in the first phase which runs till the end of March, “Other high-risk groups, including adults in First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations, and adult chronic home care recipients” will get vaccinated, Niagara Health spokesperson Mary Taws said in a media statement.
For now the plan is for those shots to largely be delivered at hospital and public health clinics, but Simpson says that's inadequate.
Waiting till phase 2, in April or later, before pharmacies and other community outlets get the vaccine for delivery to older, vulnerable populations is not good enough, Simpson said in an interview.
In phase 2, from April to July, Niagara Health plans to vaccinate high-risk older adults and other at-risk people in the region.
During phase 3, likely in August, everyone else will be able to get innoculated, according to the province's plan.
With all the doses that officials say Canada has received or has coming, Simpson said that timeline could easily be accelerated.
For instance, in Niagara-on-the-Lake alone, his pharmacies could easily give shots to more than 100 people daily, he said. With other pharmacies, clinics and doctors' offices participating, “It's not unreasonable to think that our town could vaccinate 500 people a day.”
At that pace, everyone in NOTL who needs a vaccination could be done in a matter of days, while ensuring those most at risk get their shot first.
In “40 or 50 days, we'd have the whole town vaccinated with two doses,” Simpson said.
“I realize that's not going to happen just because of the way that they're stratifying prioritizing groups according to risk,” but it shows what is possible, he noted.
Given the chance, “I'd like to think that we could quickly turn around and vaccinate those groups, which would put a significant dent in those that are considered to be most at risk.”
Drive-through vaccination clinics, extended hours or seven-day-a-week operations could be options worth exploring, Simpson said.
As fast as the vaccine is coming into the country is how fast he'd like to see it getting out and into people's arms. Not sitting in freezers, awaiting distribution.
But that will only happen with a greater sense of urgency exhibited by the government, he said.
“We've got Family Day coming up in February and as much as I'd love to take another day off with family, I'd be more thrilled to be able to say that I worked all day and was able to support vaccination efforts somewhere.”