Demand has outpaced vaccine supply in the provincial pharmacy’s rollout of the immunization program, as questions mount over the future AstraZeneca deliveries to Canada from overseas manufacturers.
According to the BC Pharmacy Association, appointments have surpassed the available supply. But top officials with the province and Interior Health say there will be options for a second AstraZeneca dose after a four-month interval, which follows the recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).
While future AstraZeneca supply is unknown due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in India, where the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVISHIELD is manufactured, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the B.C.’s public health officer, has repeatedly touted during press briefings the ongoing ‘mix-and-match’ studies that are currently underway in the United Kingdom.
That study is tracking the advantages or disadvantages of using viral-vector vaccines (AstraZeneca) and messenger RNA (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) vaccines interchangeably for first and second doses.
Preliminary data should be available by the end of the month, according to Henry.
“We know the AstraZeneca vaccine is a great vaccine, and it works well and it stimulates the immune system in a certain way,” said Henry, during a provincial COVID-19 update on May 6.
“So people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, they can receive the second dose of AstraZeneca or there may be the option of having that choice of receiving a messenger RNA vaccine as a second dose and we’ll be watching that very carefully.”
With no more pharmacy bookings available as of May 5, the top health official for the B.C. Interior says everyone who receives a first dose of AstraZeneca will get a second shot, regardless of whether it’s a dose of AstraZeneca or a messenger RNA vaccine.
“It might not necessarily be AstraZeneca, but the plan is to get people a second dose,” said Dr. Albert de Villiers, the chief medical officer for Interior Health, during a briefing on May 7.
“At that point … in the next four months, it’ll be figured out, I’m very sure of that and we will be able to give either AstraZeneca or a different vaccine at that point.”
British Columbia has received 315,000 doses of AstraZeneca, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control, but information on further shipments or deliveries has not been announced by the federal government.
As AstraZeneca supply runs dry, the province is receiving larger volumes of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, as the province is set to receive a quarter of a million Pfizer doses this week, with a reliable weekly delivery schedule well into July.
More Moderna doses are scheduled to arrive in the next two weeks as well, according to the federal government.
Health officials, including Henry and health minister Adrian Dix, have repeatedly emphasized the importance of registering for vaccination with the goal of giving everyone eligible a first dose by Canada Day.
De Villiers says Interior Health has the capacity to handle and distribute increased volumes of vaccine supply to communities across the region, but options for expansion include the pharmacy program or physician offices, among others.
“At this stage, we are able to manage with only our mass clinics, but in the future, if it gets to that, we will be able to expand,” said de Villiers.
In a recent statement, the BC Pharmacy Association noted pharmacists are willing to deliver other vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson if called upon by the province to do so.