Leslie McGill, President & CEO, MedicAlert Foundation Canada
Kudos to Alberta. They’ve got it right. Which is why it’s baffling to me that other provincial governments are waiting to give pharmacists the green light to administer COVID vaccines.
Or given the current COVID response and rollout – maybe it’s not so surprising.
As someone who was directly involved in Ontario’s expanded scope of practice implementation that allowed pharmacists to be able to give the flu shot, it’s inconceivable to me that provinces won’t simply amend legislation to include pharmacists as part of their COVID vaccine rollout strategies.
In 2012, Ontario’s rollout of the flu vaccine within pharmacies happened in six months. Planning for a similar rollout process for the COVID vaccine administration could have easily started last year – and it would have cost far less to provincial health systems than what is happening now.
Let’s think about it.
Logic would dictate that providing the vaccine in community settings, places familiar to people – and frequented often – would make the most sense. In fact, most Canadians live within 10 km of a pharmacy. Pharmacies have well-established supply chains, cold storage, and an army of experienced staff behind the counter trained to inject. They also have online booking systems for people to schedule vaccinations. Pharmacies are embedded across our communities, and with many open 18 to 24 hours a day, it creates far greater convenience for people who may have challenges accessing a central vaccination clinic because of work and family obligations, mobility and other health-related issues that making waiting in long lines an impossibility.
Pharmacists also know their patients – particularly their senior customers, intimately. They have systems that hold drug histories. They know their patients’ health conditions and are trained to counsel for those who may have questions about the vaccine as it relates to their specific health challenge. Pharmacists are our country’s medication specialists – they advise physicians on medication management and are also one of our most trusted health professionals in Canada. Who hasn’t waited at the pharmacy counter for a consult!?
Of course, it could be that government is more concerned about the public perception about the vaccine supply – or the lack thereof. Or worse, they’re thinking ahead to the next round of elections and are counting on their rollout plan to showcase how they helped protect Canadians at a time of need.
Canadians already know there are supply issues – there’s nothing new there; but to build unnecessary infrastructure at the expense of the taxpayer makes me scratch my head. Sending our vulnerable populations into open clinic environment can offer a chaotic experience which may keep people away – especially our senior population, those who have poor health literacy, or others who have emigrated from countries where their trust of government is limited at best. Isn’t it our collective goal to have as many people as possible vaccinated so we can get to herd immunity?
Access to care, should never be political football. We already have the infrastructure across the country -- much of it developed by the private sector -- to make these vaccines accessible to all when and as they become available. We should use it.