Despite assurances from the Minister of Health that those initially left out of Ontario’s AstraZeneca pilot project through an age-range technicality would still be able to receive the vaccine, many people who should qualify are being denied their shots.
When the pilot was announced Wednesday, the Ontario government’s website said only people “who were born between 1957 and 1961 (60 to 64 years old)” could sign up to be vaccinated in one of 327 pharmacies and some select clinics in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor.
By Thursday afternoon, the province had updated its website to read that vaccines should also go to people who “will be, or have been, 60 to 64 in 2021.”
This update has not yet been received or understood by all involved in administering the vaccine.
Heddie Zinman, 64, said she chose to forgo getting the AstraZeneca shot Friday because a pharmacist at her local Shoppers Drug Mart told her if a person turns 65 in between their first and second dose of the vaccine — it requires two shots for peak effectiveness — they would be denied the second shot.
“As my birthday is in six weeks, I’m not going to take a chance,” said Zinman. She said she would opt to wait until Ontario starts vaccinating 65-year-olds en masse sometime in June. “The whole rollout has been a nightmare. Especially trying to book appointments.”
The Shoppers location Zinman went to could not be reached by phone for comment. Loblaw, which owns Shoppers, did not return a request for comment.
What Zinman was told is in direct conflict with messaging from Minster of Health Christine Elliott at Queen’s Park Thursday.
“Yes, we want as many people to get the vaccines as possible,” she said after being asked if people turning 65 this year, such as Zinman, still qualified for the vaccine.
“We don’t want there to be those sorts of limitations. It’s really important.”
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In an email to the Star, the Ministry of Health confirmed someone in Zinman’s position would be entitled to both vaccines.
It said there’s nothing that could make someone who received the first AstraZeneca shot as part of the pilot ineligible for the second shot.
The second dose, the Ministry said, will be administered 16 weeks after the first in accordance with recommendations from Canada’s National Advisory Commitee on Immunization. NACI said a vaccine interval greater than 12 weeks ensure the greatest vaccine efficacy. The WHO recommends an eight- to 12-week interval.
Cheryl Tucker was told by a pharmacist Thursday that despite being 64, she was ineligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine because her 1956 birthdate fell outside the province’s allotted date range for the project.
“The Ministry of Health didn’t send us the alert to change the age range until last night,” said Peter, an employee at the Scarborough Walmart pharmacy that denied Tucker a vaccine. He declined to provide his last name or job title.
“We couldn’t officially accept those people until then,” he added. “But the records have been straightened and we accept them now.”
Tucker was able to register for a vaccine Friday afternoon.
Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said the OPA sent out a clarification to all participating pharmacies in the province in the “late afternoon or early evening” Thursday.
“They’re busy, they might not have seen it right away,” said Bates. “It depends on when they check their emails. But this is why you pilot; there are going to be some bumps along the way. There was need for further clarification and I think that’s out there now.”
Ben Cohen is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn
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