COVID-19 vaccines: Lower Mainland residents struggle to book doses as AstraZeneca made available for ages 55-65

More than 100 pharmacies across the Lower Mainland were scheduled to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines for the first time Wednesday, but some residents had a hard time booking an appointment.

On Tuesday, the province announced those aged 55 to 65 would be eligible for the AstraZeneca-COVISHIELD vaccine, specifically at pharmacies. 

Health officials initially gave very few details about the updated rollout, which caused some panic and confusion.

“I thought these poor pharmacists,” said Mel Clancy.

Clancy tried to call her local drug stores for more information shortly after the announcement, but says her pharmacists were also in the dark.

“I thought they are going to be inundated with people trying to find information. It’s pretty great to book it based on the age group. Now you’ve got double the amount of people who are going to be trying to find this out. So I just thought 'oh boy,'” said Clancy.

As many as 113 pharmacies from Vancouver to Chilliwack will be offering the vaccine to begin with and more will be added in the coming weeks, according to the B.C. Pharmacy Association.

"This is the initial rollout and we anticipate that as soon as more vaccines become available in B.C. they will be rolled out to all community pharmacies, etc. We're hoping that that's very soon, probably before the end of April,” said Annette Robinson, President of the B.C. Pharmacy Association.

Robinson says the association was given advance warning from health officials about the rollout plan and is prepared.

“We've been waiting for this moment for a long time. As you know we did over a million flu shots this past flu season. And so we are up and we're ready to go, and waiting for the vaccination or the vaccines to come to our pharmacies,” Robinson told CTV Morning Live. 

The association website says while those aged 55 to 65 can book their appointment online, others are being prompted to join a waitlist to be contacted once more vaccines become available. However, some pharmacies hadn't even set up an online portal for booking yet.

As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, this was the status at Lower Mainland pharmacies involved in the rollout:

Fully booked:

  • London Drugs

Waitlist only:

  • Costco
  • Save On Foods
  • Rexall

No booking portal for B.C.:

  • Loblaws
  • Pharmasave
  • Walmart

Several independent pharmacies listed did not have a booking portal either.

CTV Viewers reported waiting hours on the phone before getting in touch with a pharmacist and lineups outside stores Wednesday morning.

One viewer said he was asked to leave his name and number at a store, and a staff member wrote down his information on a spare sheet of paper.

The Pharmacy Association says some locations may allow for drop-in service, but eligible people will need to check each pharmacy's website for this information to confirm. The pharmacy vaccinations are only being offered in Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health for now, due to high case counts in the regions.

The decision came just a day after a national recommendation to pause using the AstraZeneca vaccine in those under 55.

That was due to a concern about rare blood clots.

“I’m not really crazy about getting this one that we’re getting now. I’d rather get the Pfizer or Moderna and that’s a two-part one. So I'm not crazy about being a guinea pig because I know it wasn’t great with the younger people,” said Clancy.

Health officials say the risk continues to be small, but is being investigated.

What happens to the front-line workers who were supposed to get the Astrazeneca shot remains up in the air, as officials decide what to do next.

CTV News has reached out to the Ministry of Health and individual pharmacies for a response to the booking issues. 

A full list of pharmacies offering shots can be found on the B.C. Pharmacy Association’s website

If additional vaccinations become available, we will communicate information on where to book using our online booking tool.

— London Drugs (@LondonDrugs) March 31, 2021