The COVID-19 pandemic has had extensive and unprecedented consequences throughout Canada and around the world. Schools, economies, and daily life have been disrupted as people try to prevent the spread of the virus.
As of November 30, 2020, there have been over 370,000 cases of the coronavirus in Canada and 12,000 deaths. While many of these illnesses and deaths could have been prevented by basic standards of social distancing and mask-wearing, the fact remains that a vaccine is essential for the world to recover from this contagion.
The ongoing development of vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic is an encouraging event. There are several versions being tested by major pharmaceutical companies around the world, like Moderna and Pfizer. Early results of vaccine studies are promising, with effectiveness rates as high as 90 percent. Several of these vaccines require an initial administration and a booster shot a few weeks to a month later.
After the leading vaccine candidates have been approved for use by Health Canada, a complex mechanism of distribution and vaccination will have to be put into place. With over 37.5 million residents in Canada, reaching every citizen who wants to be vaccinated will be challenging, especially in rural and isolated areas.
Cornwall Ontario, Pharmacist Andrew Hanna explains how community pharmacies will help with the widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, presenting their advantages over large retail chain pharmacies.
The Importance of Community Pharmacies
Independent pharmacies will be a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to distributing and administering the COVID-19 vaccine. In Canada, all licensed pharmacists can administer vaccinations. This could take a great deal of pressure off the health care system when it comes to vaccinating all residents.
Most Canadians live within 5 kilometres of a community pharmacy. These pharmacies have convenient hours and are the most accessible health-care providers in Canada. The pharmacy-based vaccination system has been tested by the influenza vaccine, as more people have become interested in getting this vaccine as a result of COVID. Nearly half of Canadian residents receive their yearly seasonal flu shot in a pharmacy, twice as many as receive the vaccine in a doctor’s office.
This effective distribution method will be able to reach more people than large retail pharmacies, giving the Canadian COVID response a unique advantage.
One of the biggest advantages of using community pharmacies is that most localities in Canada have a local independent pharmacy. People who do not want to wait in long lines or make appointments well into the future will be pleased to receive their vaccines without delay.
Since it is likely that many formulations of the COVID-19 vaccine will require a booster shot, using a pharmacy to receive vaccinations will be a convenient alternative to visiting the doctor’s office.
Compliance with the booster shot system will need to be ensured for the population to become adequately protected from the virus. Since patients frequently visit the pharmacy for their normal needs, it will be easy for them to stop by and receive a COVID booster shot.
Even with the vaccine, Pharmacist Andrew Hanna believes that it is possible that immunity from the virus will be short-lived. Similar to the flu shot, it may be that most people will need to receive an annual COVID vaccine. Local independent pharmacies will be skilled in setting up routine vaccination for this disease.
Special Skills of Pharmacists
If a patient is diagnosed with COVID-19 and cannot visit the pharmacy in person, they can consult with a pharmacist over the phone to talk about potential over-the-counter treatments for their symptoms. Pharmacists are an often-overlooked source of timely and accurate health-care information and should always be consulted when a patient is ill.
Pharmacists also have special skills when it comes to dealing with drug interactions. Some patients may have indicators that they should not receive certain medications or vaccines. Since a community pharmacist has fewer customers than a large retail pharmacist, they are able to handle each customer’s individual medical needs.
Independent pharmacists also have close relationships with doctors in the community. When a patient is having a difficult time, the doctor and pharmacist will be in contact and able to treat the patient with the best combination of over-the-counter and prescription medications. Many pharmacists are also experienced in recommending alternative medications.
When the COVID-19 vaccinations are distributed, several formulations will need to be stored at unusually low temperatures in order to remain safe and effective. Local community pharmacies and physicians’ offices alike will need to receive equipment upgrades to properly store and administer these vaccines. It is hoped that the government and the vaccine manufacturers will be able to assist with this potential problem.
Another issue that parents should be aware of is that Canadian pharmacists are not allowed to vaccinate children under 5 years of age. Parents will need to take their young children to see a doctor to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine.
Pharmacists Complete the Puzzle
As frontline members of the medical community, community pharmacists are able to provide personal and compassionate services to local Canadian residents. Canadians already trust their family pharmacists, and they know that they will receive the best possible care with a pharmacist on their care team.
Canadians prefer to receive their vaccinations at a convenient time and place, without paying out-of-pocket. Community pharmacies will be able to meet the high demand for COVID-19 vaccinations, encouraging all local residents to protect themselves and others.
Programs will soon be put into place that will enable local distribution centers to store these vaccines at the proper temperatures. It is hoped that the specialized refrigeration equipment will not delay the administration of the vaccine, even in rural areas.
Community pharmacists like Andrew Hanna should not be overlooked when patients are planning their preventive care against COVID-19. Since independent pharmacies are located close to many Canadians’ homes, they will be a key part of the vaccine distribution system.
Every Canadian should consider receiving the COVID-19 vaccination, even if they feel they are at low risk for complications from the disease. The more people who are vaccinated, the lower the incidence of disease will be in the population, protecting the most vulnerable members of society.