Forty-one-year-old Dave Goertzen considers himself one of the fortunate ones, as he was able to secure a vaccine appointment after age requirements for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine changed Monday.
While doing regular assessments based on a provincial calculator, he figured he wouldn’t be able to get the COVID-19 shot until late May or early June. News the age requirement was dropped to 40 and over to get the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday sent him scrambling to book an appointment.
Goertzen was able to snag a spot at a pharmacy on Portage Avenue only hours after the announcement was made.
“Well I feel better. It’s a lot better knowing I can get it. I still really wish that teachers would get it even before me just because they are around kids all day long,” said Goertzen. “But I am still going to take the opportunity since it was given to me.”
‘Can’t even put the phone down’
There are about 55 thousand AstraZeneca doses available, and Tim Smith of Pharmacists Manitoba says they won’t last long.
“I’m hearing from some of the colleagues, both here in Winnipeg as well as in rural communities, that they can’t even put the phone down between calls before it rings again. So obviously, there’s been a lot of interest from Manitobans,” said Smith.
That’s the story over at Northway Pharmacy on Corydon Avenue. Pharmacist Ashley Ewasiuk says all 100 doses were spoken for within an hour-and-a-half of the change.
“It’s been insanity, but it has also been extremely rewarding and exciting to see people want to be vaccinated,” said Ewasiuk.
She admits there wasn’t much time to get ready for rush.
“I don’t know how you would be prepared. Our phones were ringing off the hook. We weren’t even able to make outgoing calls because calls were constantly streaming in,” said Ewasiuk.
People who didn’t act fast enough came up empty. Mike Link had booked a Monday afternoon appointment at Polo Park in Winnipeg. Three hours before he was expected to show up, he got a call saying the vaccine was all gone. He headed over to Northway to find out they were all out too.
WATCH | Mad scramble at pharmacies as people clamoured to get a shot
“It looks like its going quickly. It’s good news, right? Everyone is getting the vaccine. It’s good it’s not going to be sitting in freezers unused. That’s the positive out of all of this,” said Link.
Link isn’t sure when he will try to get an appointment again. He says he will take a break for now.
Manitoba under pressure with high supply
Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for ages 18 and up in February, but the National Advisory Committee on Immunization more recently recommended its administration to people younger than 55 be suspended as it looked into reports of rare blood clots in some patients.
An Oxford study has since found the risk of blood clots from a COVID-19 infection is eight to 10 times higher than from a vaccine. The odds of getting a blood clot from a vaccine are estimated to be between one in 100,000 and one in 250,000.
Manitoba was planning to wait for new recommendations from the committee before changing eligibility, but was under widespread pressure to act quickly due to high AstraZeneca supply.
Smith says the province is fine-tuning the AstraZeneca distribution chain for future shipments, and that busier pharmacies and clinics will soon get more doses.
Smith expects about 5,000 people a day will be innoculated, using up the supply of AstraZeneca within a week.
In addition to the AstraZeneca change, the province lowered the age of eligibility for general vaccination appointments to anyone aged 54 and up on Monday, and for First Nations aged 34 and up.
Those appointments are for vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which pharmacists and doctors are hoping to administer someday as well.