Charlotte County pharmacists say they’re on track with COVID-19 vaccinations

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – COVID-19 vaccinations are being rolled out across New Brunswick for older senior citizens right now, and most pharmacists in Charlotte County feel the area is on track with the rest of the province when it comes to getting as many people vaccinated as possible. The vaccines will not only help those who receive the shots, but also everyone else around them. The more people who get immunized, the more difficult it will be for the virus to spread. Not only does this help save lives, it will also help to lift the restrictions we are currently living under.

In St. Stephen, pharmacists currently have approval to provide shots to those who are 75 years and older. St. Stephen Guardian Drugs Pharmacist Chelsea Steeves said the age of those who are receiving the shots depends on the requirements announced by the provincial government.

“We’re required specifically to provide the groups that they approved, starting with 85-year-olds and up,” said Steeves. “However, we have been contacted by people that are about 55 to 60 and older. The groups that the government has approved are 75 years and older, so far. We currently (at the time of the interview) are still working on the 80-year-olds and up.”

One of the biggest problems facing many pharmacies in the province is procuring enough doses. Steeves said one of the reasons this is a problem is the fact that some of the groups that are currently eligible have been approved before the doses are shipped out. But, pharmacists are dealing with it on a day-to-day basis, and people are receiving their vaccinations.

“It looks like it hopefully will start to catch-up,” said Steeves. “At this point, some of the eligibility groups have been approved before we’ve been shipped the doses. We definitely have to manage some expectations but people have been generally pretty understanding, once we explain the situation.”

In St. George, Pharmacist Robin Gay from St. George Guardian said they are filling up every spot they have for vaccinations. They are currently working on vaccinating those who are 75 and older, as well as rotational workers who cross the border on a regular basis. She added that they are getting doses, but they are using them up as quickly as they receive them.

“We’re all booked for this weekend, and we’re booking up for next weekend,” said Gay. “We’re only that far. We’re not completely filled for the next week, so I’d say we’re doing okay. Friday and Saturday is what we’ve been mostly doing, and we’re using up all that they’re sending us in those two days.”

Gareth Smith, pharmacist at Herring Cove Pharmacy on Campobello, said the island is likely “ahead of the provincial curve”. As of last week, he figured they would be a quarter of the way finished vaccinating everyone on the island. They have vaccinated long-term care workers, first responders, nursing home residents, and most of the residents ages 70 and older. They are now working with people who are 65 to 70 years old. He does have some concerns that as they get into the younger population that not as many people will want to receive the shot.

“I would say with the older age group, 70 plus, we’re at a 95 per cent uptake,” said Smith. “When we start getting down to the groups where people don’t consider themselves high risk, they seem to be a bit more carefree about it and tend to voice their opinions. I would say the uptake there is not as good, but I would say it’s 80 per cent.”

Smith said between the three locations (St. George, Saint Andrews, and Campobello) he has seen more than 500 people get vaccinations, and he is not aware of any adverse reactions other than mild, flu-like symptoms. He said one of the biggest problems is people who are not getting the facts, and who are taking their information from sources that may be misleading.

“A lot of the information that’s out there on social media is really misleading, and it’s not what I’m seeing first-hand at all. The quicker everybody gets vaccinated, the quicker life’s going to get back to normal,” said Smith.

Kristin Munro, incoming front store manager/pharmacy assistant and her brother, Michael Munro, incoming pharmacist/pharmacy manager and owner, who are in the process of taking over the Grand Isle Drug Store on Grand Manan, agree most people are supportive and excited to be able to get the vaccination without having to travel to the mainland. Munro said they are currently using the Pfizer vaccine, which has to be used as quickly as possible because it is more sensitive than the other vaccines available.

“We’re hoping that we go back to getting Moderna again. At that point, maybe we’ll be able to do a nightly clinic instead of taking up all our weekends,” said Munro.

Michael said he and his sister are excited to be living and working on Grand Manan. They are currently working with the owners so they can take over management of the store, and they want to build on what has already been created.

“We’re excited to do that, of course do our part for COVID,” said Munro. “And, when it comes to other things like clinical services that people may not expect from a pharmacy, immunizations, prescription renewals, health clinics eventually, those are the things we want to try and move towards.”

Michael said as they get into the lower age groups, there may be a need for additional vaccines to ensure the entire population of the Island can be vaccinated.

“I’d say it’s pretty close,” said Michael . “When we drop down age groups, there may be, based on the demographics, a little bit more. We’ll go through it, for sure. Essentially, the most important thing is that there’s never any wasted. We’re making sure if someone cancels their appointment we get someone in as close to their age group as possible.”

Munro said they are definitely going through all of the vaccines they receive, and they find everything is working out quite well when it comes to numbers. As of last week, they were working with people 75 and older, and expected to be in the 70-plus range by this week.

When asked if he had any advice for anyone who is nervous about getting vaccinated due to the things they are hearing in the news and reading online, Michael said it is important that they get the vaccines out to as many people as possible.

“Anything that we can do to help support the percentages of that in the province, the country, and the world, would be what we are looking for,” said Michael. “Most people, I think there is a degree of some counter signs out there. Check the reputability of the sources people are looking at online. You can find any answer you want online, but it may not be the most valid. CDC, Health Canada, NACI (National Advisory Committee on Immunization), etc. Those are good sources for information.”

His sister added it is important for people to remember a lot of reports are made up just to scare people. She said the media always needs “some kind of boogey man”, and advises people to check their sources of information, as well as speak with their own physicians and pharmacists questions if there is something they are nervous about. This seems to be a general consensus with most pharmacists in the area.

According to Health Canada, as of Thursday, April 1, New Brunswick has vaccinated 10.12 per cent of the eligible population of the province with at least one dose, putting the province in the bottom third of vaccination rates across the country.

Overall in Canada, 11.86 per cent of eligible residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, ranking Canada in the middle of the pack worldwide.