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Jan. 29, 2022 | Saturday
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Pharmacy can't meet demand for COVID vaccinations
Pharmacist Sean Simpson says demand for COVID shots far exceeds the ability of pharmacies like his to get needles into arms. (File)

More staff needed as government makes more people eligible for shots

 

Sean Simpson needs help.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake pharmacist has plenty of COVID vaccine available for boosters, kids jabs and people needing first and second doses. 

What he doesn't have is enough hours in the day or qualified staff to meet the demand for shots.

And besides vaccinations, there's flu shots to be given out, testing for symptomatic and asymptomatic people, plus non-stop inquiries from patients about when they can get whatever shot they're desperately waiting for.

He's not complaining, just being realistic.

"The reality is there's a massive bottleneck right now and we're going as fast as we can," he said in an interview Tuesday.

That bottleneck is caused by many factors, including the government making more and more people eligible for vaccinations without ensuring there are enough health care workers in the field to deliver the jabs.

It's a situation Simpson knows all too well.

"We're booking into the middle of January at the moment. That's the only availability we have."

Nearly two years into the pandemic having enough trained and qualified health care staff available is a problem across the province.

"We can't increase capacity. We're having a hard time managing the capacity that we're already able to provide," he said.

Simpson's two NOTL pharmacies have job postings and are keen to hire, but that all takes time.

Julie Dyck at Stone Road Pharmacy in Virgil is also swamped.

"We are currently vaccinating over 100 adults weekly and have had a clinic for 20 children and have another clinic booked for before Christmas," she told The Lake Report.

"The demand is so high right now that we are booking eight weeks in advance," she said.

Demand is not letting up but most people are being understanding and patient, Simpson said.

However, some have unrealistic expectations.

"Some people seem to think that the government announces eligibility so that means they should just be able to walk into a pharmacy that day" and get their shot, he said.

"So, compounded by those unrealistic expectations, compounded by panic around the new variant, compounded by people's travel schedules and holiday parties, people seem to think the vaccine is their passport to a normal holiday season," he said.

People need to temper their expectations, he said, and avoid scenarios like, " 'I've got a dinner party on Friday night. I want to get my booster before I go.' But we all know it takes two weeks from a shot to build up immunity so getting a booster shot on a Thursday isn't going to do much for you on the Friday."

Because it is focusing on vaccinating children under 12, Niagara's public health department is doing few adult shots now, unlike last spring and summer when there were adult clinics at arenas and community centres across the region.

Now, much of the burden is falling to pharmacies, which are trying to juggle all their regular duties on top of a flood of vaccination requests.

Simpson's has 1,200 people on a wait list for boosters at its Virgil site and 600 at its Apothecary in Old Town. While there might be some duplication on the two lists, those people represent many days of vaccinations before they're reduced, he said.

"We're working absolutely as hard as we can but we also need to be able to take a day or two through the holidays to enjoy with our family and friends," he said.

Looking ahead to the holidays, Simpson strongly advises people to follow public health guidance about social gatherings and certainly to "avoid large parties."

The Omicron variant spreads quickly "and people need to be mindful of that."

In the meantime, he encourages people to "dial things back just a little bit" for Christmas and New Year's celebrations – and get their booster shots at the first opportunity, whether it's here in NOTL or elsewhere.

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