COVID-19 vaccine pilot project coming to some Ontario pharmacies

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TORONTO -- Ontario pharmacists will soon be able to administer the COVID-19 vaccine after the Ford government signed an agreement to harness the reach of 4,600 pharmacies across the province.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association said a pilot project will be launched in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor-Essex next week to test run the distribution, storage, booking and administration systems, before the program is scaled up in the coming weeks.

At its peak the association says pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will be able to administer 46 vaccines per day, with a total of one million vaccines per week, using a yearly flu vaccination campaign as a blueprint.

“This is going to be an all hands on deck scenario,” the association’s president, Justin Bates, told CTV News Toronto

The association has been running table top exercises with the provincial vaccine distribution taskforce and is working to pinpoint which pharmacies will be involved in the pilot project with the aim of “putting shots in arms next week.”

“Over the next two weeks, you're going to start to see that there's a refined plan for three public health units,” Bates said. “We're going to start there with a limited amount of vaccine that's available and then scale up.”

The Ford government has indicated that community pharmacies will be an integral part of the vaccine distribution system, and suggested that the highly-portable AstraZeneca vaccine will be administered at local pharmacies.

Bates noted, however, that pharmacies will “utilize their own booking system” to take appointments for first and second doses, building on the existing appointment software pharmacy chains use every year.

“The pharmacies will use their own booking system, is what we've been told. And they [the province] are looking into those options to have that flexibility,” Bates said.

That raises questions about the multitude of vaccination portals available to the public and the potential overlap between them.

Critics of the Ford government have raised concerns about public heath units being forced to transfer over to a provincial booking portal when it’s launched on Mar. 15.

With appointments potentially being taken at pharmacies, hospitals, public health units and the province, some fear people will be left confused over how the province plans to vaccinate Ontarians.

“I think reasonable people would think there's a lot of risk in that, or there's some risk for it to be a bumpy ride, for people to be confused,” said Liberal MPP John Fraser.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner pleaded with the Ford government to present an updated vaccination plan in order to maintain public confidence.

“And as new developments evolve over time, then be clear and transparent about the adjustments you're making,” Schreiner said.

“I think the public is going to understand that.”