B.C. booking bottlenecks emerge as AstraZeneca vaccine offered to those 55-65

London Drugs books all its available appointments day ahead of scheduled roll-out

Photo: Grant Berntsen

London Drugs Ltd. is urging British Columbians not to phone the chain’s pharmacies to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments after being “inundated” by calls over the past day.

The province revealed Tuesday it would begin offering the AstraZeneca plc vaccine at 150 local pharmacies within the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions to those between the ages of 55 and 65.

This comes after B.C. suspended the use of the vaccine for those under 55 amid growing global concerns it was linked to a small number of cases of blood clots to have emerged in those who have received the jab.

The province said eligible British Columbians would be able to call their local pharmacy beginning Wednesday to book an appointment outside their age cohort.

But London Drugs tweeted on Tuesday — the day before bookings were due to begin — that “due to an overwhelming response, all available vaccine appointments have been booked. We ask that customers refrain from calling our pharmacies directly to allow for the pharmacies to prepare for the vaccination process of the fully booked appointments.”

Instead, the Richmond-based company said that if additional vaccinations become available, it will let customers know where to book online.

In a statement sent to BIV, London Drugs said its phone lines were “inundated with customers wanting to book appointments” after the province made its Tuesday announcement.

“These pharmacies immediately began taking down eligible patient information aged 55 to 65 for appointments. There are limited number of vaccines we have been allocated so far,” the company said.

“We will open up our online booking similarly to what we would do with routine flu vaccinations. We are ready to vaccinate as many people as possible and expect more information on increased allotment will be coming in the days ahead.”

As of Wednesday, London Drugs’ online COVID-19 vaccination booking tool is only available for Alberta and Manitoba. London Drugs is offering vaccinations at three locations: one in North Vancouver, one in Port Coquitlam and one in Burnaby.

Meanwhile, 51 Shoppers Drug Mart outlets in the Lower Mainland are offering up vaccinations to eligible British Columbians.

Rather than offering online bookings, the national chain is asking B.C. residents to call or visit to make their appointments.

Shoppers Drug Mart’s website states appointments are currently only available until Friday.

Loblaw Cos. Ltd. (TSX:L), the parent company of Shoppers Drug Mart, is offering vaccinations at 14 of its separate Loblaw pharmacies.

Some of those locations are located within Real Canadian Superstore outlets and the company suggests people sign up for its waiting list online or else download its PC Health app to be alerted when they’re eligible.

Save-on-Foods has 18 locations administering AstraZeneca vaccinations.

After some reports of problems accessing the company’s online waiting list, Save-on-Foods’ Twitter account suggested people call its customer service line at 1-800-242-9229.

Eight Rexall sites are also offering vaccinations, while hopeful B.C. vaccine recipients are being asked to sign up via the company’s waiting list.

A full list of locations can be found at the B.C. Pharmacy Association’s website.

While the Fraser Health authority offers online bookings, the province-wide booking system isn’t set to launch until April 12.

And up until Wednesday, when pharmacies began accepting calls, the rest of B.C. had only been able to book vaccinations via call centres tied to local health authorities and maintained by Telus Corp. (TSX:T).

The B.C. government’s immunization plan had originally sought to immunize 320,000 essential workers outside of their age group using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The suspension of the vaccine for those under 55 has left that plan in limbo for the time being as the province examines the possible correlation between the rare blood clots and the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In the meantime, the province is continuing with its age-based vaccination plan that relies on the Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and Moderna Inc. (NYSE:MRNA) vaccines.