Toronto pharmacist offers to vaccinate teachers 55 and older

In this March 10, 2021 file photo, a health worker prepares a Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center, in Peshawar, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad, File)

On a typical Tuesday morning, Jeff Stevens would have been in front of a class. But on this Tuesday, the Toronto teacher was rolling up his sleeve for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Classes were cancelled this morning” Stevens told CTV News Toronto. "I thought this was an opportunity to at least get vaccinated.”

He was one of dozens of teachers who took advantage of an offer from pharmacist Kyro Maseh. The offer, made on social media, was an invitation for any teacher or daycare worker over the age of 55 to visit the Lawlor Pharmasave for a COVID-19 vaccine - with no appointment required.

"I think it’s fair that people that are working from home can wait until the people that are on the frontline can get their dose first," Maseh said.

More than 40 teachers showed up on Monday to get a shot, with the last three doses being given out first thing Tuesday morning.

According to Maseh, many of the teachers felt the situation in schools was "a recipe for disaster."

"They’re terrified, they’re terrified to go to work."

Under provincial policy, adults 55 years of age and older can make an appointment either through a pharmacy or a primary care provider to get a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Maseh says his decision to offer the vaccines to teachers and daycare workers was entirely a personal one, motivated by a personal connect to a victim of the virus.

"I lost a friend last week, and he was 38 years old. And it became evident that this virus is a lot more aggressive than was, a lot more infectious than it used to be and we have to have a more targeted approach with our vaccinations."

Changing vaccination strategies is something the Ontario Pharmacists Association agrees with.

"We need to make sure we have a pivot here", Justin Bates, the OPA's CEO told CTV News.

The association is calling on the government to allow pharmacists to begin vaccinations for essential workers. They also want the government to give pharmacies access to more vaccines, including those from Pfizer and Moderna. And they want the government to let pharmacists go out in to their communities to offer off-site immunizations.

"We need essential workers to be vaccinated, and we need them to have access in the community through primary care and through pharmacies.

As for Maseh, he says he plans to continue to vaccinate teachers and daycare workers over the age of 55, once he gets his next shipment of vaccines.

"I speak for myself I’m not a policy maker, I’m just my small little pharmacy we’re doing things the way that I feel is right."

And it's a move that's appreciated by those getting the vaccines, including Jeff Stevens.

"I think it’s terrific. I’m glad somebody recognizes that it’s important for teachers to be vaccinated," Stevens said.

It's also a move being lauded by the community. In front of the store on Kingston Road near Victoria Park someone has written in chalk 'Thank you Kyro you are appreciated". And throughout the day people stopped by to express their admiration for Maseh's move.

Among them was customer Tom Barnard, who told CTV News, "I just had to come over and stop in and congratulate him for his initiative- if we saw more action like this in the community we might actually get ahead of this a little bit."