London Drugs preps to deliver COVID-19 vaccine jabs at pharmacies

B.C.-based chain still awaiting official go-ahead from province

Photo: Grant Berntsen

London Drugs Ltd. says it’s prepping to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to British Columbians within its pharmacies as the province ramps up plans administer jabs to the general public.

The Richmond-based chain’s own pharmacists have been administering doses at assisted-living facilities and vaccination clinics in B.C. the past few months.

But the company is now turning its attention to making those jabs happen in its own locations, and is in the midst of setting up an online booking system allowing patients to make appointments.

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

The rest of B.C. has been booking vaccinations the past two weeks by contacting call centres that are tied to their local health authorities and maintained by Telus Corp. (TSX:T).

The first two vaccines approved in Canada, Pfizer Inc.’s (NYSE:PFE) and Moderna Inc.’s (NYSE:MRNA), must be maintained at ultra-cold temperatures (as low as -80C in the case of Pfizer).

The AstraZeneca plc vaccine can be maintained at fridge temperatures, making it far easier to distribute to locations throughout the province.

London Drugs, in the meantime, has secured ultra-low temperature freezers capable of transporting the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from distribution centres to pharmacies.

The company has also purchased safety gear for staff transporting the vaccines and PPE for workers delivering the jabs.

“This is a pretty stable vaccine [AstraZeneca] so that means we can use the infrastructure that we have in our community and particularly our community providers, pharmacies specifically,” B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a briefing Thursday.

“We've been working with the [B.C.] Pharmacy Association to make sure that we can do this in an efficient way and we know that there are many pharmacies and pharmacists who have been part of our influenza immunization program that are ready and able to take this up.”

B.C. pharmacies have not yet been given the official go-ahead from the province to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

But the province now expects to receive 340,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines from both the Serum Institute of India and the COVAX sharing program by the end of May.

Those doses, which are much easier to distribute, will be administered to about 320,000 essential workers in the coming months while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are initially being allocated to the general population based on descending age groups.

That means the province will be stick-handling a considerably larger number of jabs in the spring compared with when vaccines first arrived in the winter for those most vulnerable or working in at-risk jobs.