COVID-19 vaccine boosters causing frustration
After spending hours on the phone trying to schedule COVID-19 booster shot appointments, Bev Marciniec says it’s clear “the rollout was not done properly, and especially here.”
“We have so many seniors here in St. Catharines, we should be getting more (doses of vaccine),” said the Garden City woman — one of a growing number of Niagara residents who have experienced similar irritation while trying to get their third dose of vaccine.
When vaccines were made available for first and second doses, she said, getting vaccinated was comparatively easy, with mass vaccination clinics being run by both Niagara Health and Niagara Region Public Health.
But now, months after the hospital system shut down its vaccine clinics, a growing number of people are becoming eligible for booster shots, while public health is focusing entirely on providing first doses to children.
Marciniec, 77, said she expects the problem will be far worse after Dec. 13 when Ontarians 50 and older will be able to begin booking booster shot appointments.
With limited supplies of booster shots available at pharmacies and some participating doctors offices, pharmacists are feeling frustration, too.
“There’s more demand than there is capacity in the system,” said Niagara-on-the-Lake pharmacist Sean Simpson. “It’s not fair what we’re dealing with.”
In addition to prioritizing vaccines for children, he said many pharmacies are providing booster shots to adults, as well as doses of influenza vaccine.
Meanwhile, pharmacists are getting calls from people venting their frustrations about having to wait for booster shots.
“I’m angry back at the individuals that think they have to have their vaccine on the day they become eligible, and usually they’re telling me they need their vaccine because they’re going to Mexico the next day,” he said. “We’re having all kinds of people demanding they must get their vaccine at this time and expect us to meet that demand.”
Simpson said the stipend pharmacies receive per dose administered is not worth the aggravation.
“It’s not worth the phone calls that we’re putting up with,” he said, adding it’s leading some pharmacists to contemplate getting out of the COVID-19 vaccine business entirely, which would further exacerbate the problem.
Simpson, a member of the region’s vaccine distribution task force, hopes the issue will be addressed at its next meeting.
In the meantime, he pleaded with people to be patient.
“Your vaccine does not stop working on the day you become eligible for your third dose,” he said.
Marciniec credits her son Ken for finally getting her booster shot appointment, after spending hours on the phone and computer. She has an appointment at a pharmacy on Dec. 20, while her 81-year-old husband gets his shot a day later.
“This is the Conservative government’s fault,” Ken Marciniec said. “I shouldn’t have to spend a whole morning calling around from one pharmacy to another only to be told they aren’t taking appointments and there aren’t enough doses available. Then the provincial hotline told me the closest place my elderly parents could go to get their booster right now is the Toronto Convention Centre. That’s not right.”
He said the province had been cutting funding for public health, “right up until they were overwhelmed with the pandemic.”
“It’s unbelievable that (Premier) Doug Ford and (Health Minister) Christine Elliott haven’t gotten us anywhere near the ‘military precision’ they promised,” he added, referring to statements Ford made in late November when announcing Gen. Rick Hillier was appointed to chair a new provincial task force on vaccine distribution.
St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens, too, blames it on the provincial vaccine booking system “breaking down, yet again.”
She recalled being inundated with phone calls earlier this year from frustrated people trying to book appointments.
“It was the same thing, lack of planning. The government is creating unnecessary chaos again,” Stevens said. “Seniors are left struggling, wondering when they can get their booster shot. It’s unclear direction all the time.”
Stevens said the government “needs to start listening.”
“This is a predictable mess and I’m building a community response for tomorrow’s question period,” she added in an email.