B.C. pharmacies worry AstraZeneca doses could go to waste

When the province told pharmacies to stop giving out first doses of AstraZeneca, many had already run out of the vaccine. But some still have vials in their fridges.

“We have 20 doses left, of the 220 that were initially given to us,” said Jason Cridge of Cridge Family Pharmacy in Victoria. “I know there are many other pharmacies in Victoria that have 100-plus doses left.”

Now that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has said people who had a first dose of AstraZeneca can safely take Pfizer for dose two, Cridge suspects most of them will.

“I don’t know any patients that need to have AstraZeneca as their second dose,” he said. “I think most of them wouldn’t mind having Pfizer as their second.”

The province is still committed to having enough AstraZeneca for second doses for all 275,000 British Columbians who received that vaccine as their first shot.

“Right now, we have on-hand enough vaccine to do 50 per cent of those who received first doses of AstraZeneca, and we are going to get more,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

But Cridge wonders if it’s wise for B.C. to accept more AstraZeneca now that people can choose Pfizer instead.

“I don’t think it would make sense to do that,” he said. “It would be a shame that those vaccines go to waste.”

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, agrees.

“We don’t want to, of course, leave any vaccine doses unused, and that has to be minimized,” she said.

But she says it’s difficult to know how many Canadians will want AstraZeneca a second time.

“We don’t want to be ordering vaccines if we’re not using it,” Tam said. “That can only be ascertained in a more granular way once we see what the uptake looks like in the coming days.”

British Columbians who choose Astrazeneca should find out Thursday how long the second dose interval will be, and whether the shots will once again be available in pharmacies. It’s the only vaccine they have been allowed to distribute, which is an ongoing source of frustration in the industry.

“Moderna and Pfizer are available in most pharmacies across Canada, except B.C., and the real question should be, ‘Why has the government made that decision which flies in the face of the judgement of many other provinces?’” said Cridge.

As for the AstraZeneca still sitting in pharmacy fridges?

“We have been told not to give first doses, and we have been told not to give second doses, so there is really not much we can do with them at this point,” Cridge said. “They just hang out in the fridge and many expire June 26, so there are 24 days to do something with them.”