COVID-19: B.C. pharmacies help fill vaccination gaps as many clinics close for holidays

Vancouver Coastal and Interior Health authorities take breaks, while Northern Health adds dates in schedules ‘subject to change’

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Many of B.C.’s vaccination clinics will be on holiday in some fashion over the next week. And while they’re getting support from pharmacies, jabs won’t be distributed in some health authority-run clinics until the new year.

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“We need to do things a little bit more quickly,” Dr. Brian Conway of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre told CBC on Friday. “This is how we got around outbreaks in June and July, we accelerated the pace of vaccines and that was very helpful.”

None of Vancouver Coastal Health’s vaccination clinics have scheduled dates from Dec. 24 to 28, and Kamloops will be without clinic support from Interior Health between Dec. 22 and 28.

Support is coming, though: Northern Health, which has coverage stalled in many areas until early January, told Postmedia News on Monday that it’s beefing up its clinic schedules: the lone 12+ vaccine clinic in Prince George was slated to close on Monday until Jan. 4, but the health unit recently added five dates from Dec. 23 to 31 at a different location.

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Northern Health said its schedules across the region are “subject to change” over the coming weeks.

Many of the northern clinics are closing for statutory holidays and other periods of time in between, provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday.

Other areas have yet to receive such support. In Burns Lake, the next available clinic will open on Jan. 5. In Fort St. John, its one clinic is being run on Dec. 21 and 30, and resumes fully on Jan. 4.

Locals’ perception of vaccine availability has varied from region to region in recent weeks. Jayleena Lynn, a 62-year-old resident in Houston, said that aside from a small miscommunication in getting the booster shot for her husband, who’s immunocompromised, her experience thus far has been positive.

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“I think everyone’s quite happy with it,” Lynn said.

Sonya Wilson, who lives in Fort St. John, said her community has had issues getting reliable information on bookings going back to the spring. When she registered to get her booster dose, she was told the closest clinic was many hours away. After several calls to Northern Health, she discovered the local clinic was a drop-in — a hurdle she was able to jump, but one she worries will cause her community to lag in getting their shots in quick order.

“There’s people here who aren’t on Facebook and can’t just type it in, especially with our rural community,” Wilson said.

Health workers have also been sent up to Northern Health from Vancouver Coastal Health in order to aid northern vaccination efforts, Dix said Friday.

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“I think Northern Health is doing a very, very good job under very difficult conditions,” he said.

While some regions have limited options coming from health authorities, vaccines are also being distributed across the province at pharmacies. Dix said that in the north, clinics are slowly being added to fill gaps left by those taking statutory holidays and certain periods off until the new year.

As of Dec. 17, Dix said just 450 slots of 1,800 possible slots had been booked. Only those who have received invitations through B.C.’s book system are able to get appointments.

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The Ministry of Health had not provided an update as of Monday evening on the number of pharmacy appointments that had been filled.

He added that all long-term care, assisted living, independent living, long-term home support, short-interval and acute-care health-care workers have been completed.

Dix admitted there have been challenges in setting up vaccine distribution among certain pharmacies.

“I think that vaccinations in pharmacies is a bit new and people are adjusting to it,” he said. “But what I am telling people is there are some opportunities for some people to get booked.”

mscace@postmedia.com

twitter.com/mattscace67


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