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Airdrie pharmacist appeals to government to broaden vaccine rollout

An Airdrie pharmacy that specializes in immunizations has voiced some concerns over the “inequity” of the Alberta government’s vaccine rollout plan, after being denied a greater role in immunizing Albertans.

An Airdrie pharmacy that specializes in immunizations has voiced some concerns over the “inequity” of the Alberta government’s vaccine rollout, after being denied a greater role in immunizing Albertans.

The Polaris Travel Clinic and Pharmacy is an established pharmacy in Airdrie and has been in operation for eight years, servicing mainly international travelers and Airdrie residents who are about to go on vacations. Clinic owner and pharmacist Jason Kmet said that due to the COVID-19 restrictions on international travel, it has been a challenging year for the business.  

“We’re a small independent local business – we don’t have the clout of a big company and we’re trying to do something here that is a bit unique and unusual,” Kmet said. “We have this special focus on vaccines and we’ve sort of carved out this little niche for ourselves.”

While the clinic has had to pivot and adapt to additional business opportunities during the pandemic, Kmet maintains their primary area of expertise is immunization. The clinic's staff had been eagerly awaiting the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccinations and he says they are more than ready to play their part in the plan.

“[Vaccinations] are our thing, this is what we do,” Kmet said. “Yet now that [the vaccines] have become available, we have not really been involved, even though this is an area we really focus on.

“We basically devote our practice to this, and we’ve mostly been left out of the rollout.”

The clinic received a shipment of 100 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month, but Kmet said he and his team have the capacity to administer a lot more. He said Polaris already has the necessary infrastructure in place, including staffing and private exam rooms for administering vaccinations.

Currently, 24 pharmacies in Airdrie are administering COVID-19 vaccines, according to Alberta Blue Cross.

Kmet added that he has attempted to reach out to the government several times about the possibility of the Polaris Travel Clinic increasing its involvement in the vaccine rollout, but to no avail.

“That’s my main frustration knowing right now that we could be doing a lot more,” he said.

Kmet added his frustrations are compounded by the fact vaccines are being sent to pharmacies that are not always prepared to administer large shipments of doses.

“And then here we are sitting around, we’ve got all our processes in place and we've got everything set up just perfectly to do this,” he said. “But we’ve kind of been left out and it’s not for lack of trying.”

According to Kmet, the government’s annual flu vaccine rollout is a “very smooth program,” but concerns over the stability and supply of the COVID-19 vaccine have created inequities in the COVID-19 vaccination system. He claimed the annual flu shot rollout works well, and that pharmacies distribute more shots than Alberta Health does.

While he said there are elements of the government’s rollout that work, Kmet said the Province needs to reassess the radius they ship the vaccines to and which pharmacies are eligible to distribute the shots. Kmet said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is still not eligible to be administered outside of the city limits of Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton due to concerns over stability and refrigeration. He added that Pfizer has been the go-to vaccine as it is available to the largest demographic and supplies are coming in “like clockwork.”

“It seems a bit ridiculous that the arbitrary line has been drawn at the city limits when the southern edge of Calgary is geographically further away from the vaccine depot than Airdrie is,” said Kmet, who added that the only other vaccine allowed outside of city limits is the Moderna vaccine, for which supplies have not been as consistent.

“Airdrie is a big community which is just on the edge of Calgary which cannot get access to this vaccine, meanwhile just on the other side of the city limits, there’s no shortage of places that are getting it. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that the Pfizer vaccine can make it to south Calgary but it can’t cross the city limits to CrossIron Mills,” he said.

Kmet added he hopes the government can come up with a system in the coming months “where there’s a sustainable supply of vaccines coming and getting to people’s arms as soon as possible.”

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