Refusal of Moderna vaccine could lead to wasted doses, Ottawa pharmacist says
The push to get as many second doses into arms as possible is well underway in Ottawa but a new challenge has arrived; a glut of options and concerns vaccine perception could lead to wasted doses.
“We are finding it is now reaching a peak and maybe waning a bit and I do find people are less likely to come in,” said Renu Pillay, pharmacist at Whole Health Pharamcy, adding that the pharmacy is seeing more cancellations.
Pillay has been administering doses of the vaccine throughout the pandemic. He has hundreds of vials of the Moderna shot, but worries he won’t have a chance to use them.
“I currently have more than 500 doses. I expect to use at least 400 of them but I’m worried I might expire about 100 doses by the end of the month,” Pillay said.
The biggest issue is hesitancy to accept a dose of Moderna.
“We do have people, before they book, that do not take the bookings because it is not Pfizer,” Pillay noted.
Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association says this is a province-wide issue.
“There’s really a challenge with the public misperception with an mRNA vaccine like Moderna and Pfizer, which is really disappointing because the efficacy and the safety are the same,” Bates said. “This is a problem across the province and it’s not just with pharmacies. It’s a problem in primary care; it’s a problem with public health units.”
Medical experts say they are dumbfounded some would chose not to take an mRNA shot when offered.
“The walkouts I’m hearing about, people showing up for their Pfizer appointments, hearing it’s Moderna and walking away, that’s fascinating to me,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Raywat Deonandan said.
Deonandan says the two mRNA vaccines are not identical but they are interchangeable.
“The two different mRNA vaccines [deliver the vaccine] in slightly different ways in the packaging in how the mRNA is introduced to your cell. It’s like the Amazon box, different packaging same content in the box,” Deonandan added.
Pillay says when he is able to consult with his patients about their concerns around the Moderna vaccine many wind up getting the shot.
“Pfizer is still the most preferred vaccine but people in Ottawa do seem to be happy with Moderna,” he said.
Hesitancy isn’t the only challenge in getting Moderna doses into arms before they expire. According to Bates there is an alleged push from organized anti-vaxxers to waste doses of the vaccine.
“What they do is they go online to pharmacy booking systems or even the provincial booking system and then they don’t show up [to the appointments] deliberately,” Bates said.
Bates says the result is doses are opened and sometimes cannot be used before they expire.
“Not only does it introduce the risk of wastage, it also means a lot of people who would’ve been in that line up can’t because those appointments were already scheduled and it’s very difficult to reschedule or bring people in last minute to use up those doses,” he noted.
Pillay says he has daily cancellations and numerous no-shows.
“I do have some cases, maybe two or three a day, where people don’t let me know they’re not coming. It’s quite possible it could be people using that technique,” he said.
CTV News did reach out to Ottawa Public Health for an interview but they declined.
A worker at a city-run vaccination clinic told CTV Ottawa there have been multiple people who have walked out when learning they would be offered a Moderna vaccine, but the worker says the majority of people were happy to take an mRNA dose no matter the brand.