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All booked up: Tri-City pharmacies run out of vaccines, veterinarians want shots as COVID-19 cases balloon

Tri-City residents are scrambling for a limited number of COVID-19 vaccine doses available at pharmacies while veterinarians, teachers wonder when their turn will come; Fraser Health switches to evening hours for online vaccine booking and daytime for phone booking starting Friday

A Port Coquitlam vet is calling for shots for animal hospital staff amid uncertainty over the COVID-19 vaccine roll out for priority frontline workers and young boomers, aged 55 to 65-years-olds, who were supposed to start getting the jab this week.

“We're not looking to jump the queue, we are simply looking to join the queue as a designated essential service as health care professionals,” said Chris Armstrong, a veterinarian working at Port Coquitlam Animal Hospital.

Armstrong told the Tri-City News that she’s worried an exposure could shut down her clinic — delaying critical appointments for family pets — as cases climb dramatically in B.C. and the Tri-Cities.

She joins the 1,750 other B.C. vets who’ve raised concerns about why they weren’t included along with health care workers in the first vaccine roll out and were excluded from the list of priority frontline workers slated to get shots starting this month.


Her concerns come as front line workers — including Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody teachers — wonder if their shots are going to be delayed due to the decision to use B.C.’s AstraZeneca shots to immunize people aged 55-65.

Coquitlam Teachers Association president Ken Christensen said he hasn’t heard when the district’s teachers are supposed to get their shots and worries the delays could put teachers at risk.

“The stalled deployment of AstraZeneca has me concerned with meeting the April timeline for distribution of first shots to teachers. I still think the Ministry of Health is working towards a profession-based distribution, but I am concerned with how supply issues may affect that for teachers,” Christensen said in an email to the Tri-City News.

Teachers were initially euphoric about being included in a priority vaccination campaign running alongside the age-based campaign, but now are left wondering where they stand.

Christensen said he expects local teachers to get the Pfizer-BioNTech shots like their Surrey counterparts where COVID-19 is spiking, but doesn’t know the “method, timeline or what vaccine it is.”

The shots are supposed to be made available this month to priority frontline workers, including first responders (police, firefighters and emergency transport), K-12 educational staff, child care staff, grocery store workers, postal workers, bylaw and quarantine officers, manufacturing workers and wholesale/warehousing employees.


The calls for priority shots comes as B.C. witnesses a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, including 325 last week in the Tri-Cities.

According to information on the B.C. government website, employers are organizing shots for priority front line workers, but dates are not specified.

And on Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is suspending its offer of early vaccinations for essential workers "for now" amid uncertainty over the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Meanwhile, Tri-City residents aged 55-65 (born between 1956-1966) are scrambling to get a limited number of AstraZeneca doses made available through local pharmacies.

The new targeted program — available only in Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions at 150 participating pharmacies — began Wednesday after B.C.’s decision to pause the administration of AstraZeneca shots to people age 55 and younger over concerns about rare blood clots.

Instead, shots were to be given to people age 55 to 65, as the AstraZeneca vaccine was halted for the younger groups.

It didn’t take long for pharmacist phone lines and online booking systems to get fully booked.

By Thursday morning, all available doses in the Tri-Cities had been snapped up, with pharmacists at Shoppers Drug Mart stores saying they weren't taking any more bookings.

“It’s been crazy busy,” said a Shoppers Drug mart pharmacist working at the St. Johns Store in Port Moody, who said all available bookings had been made and people were getting shots on Thursday.

With shots running out, online systems at Loblaws, Costco and Save-On Foods bookings were wait-listed and Shoppers Drug Mart, where people could call, said they weren’t accepting any more bookings and wouldn’t be starting a list.

“We don’t know if we’re going to have any more,” said a pharmacist at a Shoppers Drug Mart store in Port Coquitlam.

Meanwhile, London Drugs, which opened up vaccination clinics at its locations in Coquitlam Centre, Burnaby and North Vancouver, said it had been 'inundated' with vaccine booking calls Wednesday, and asked residents to stop calling pharmacies. 

The Richmond-based company said if more vaccines became available, it would let customers know where to book online.

In a survey of Tri-City pharmacies offering the vaccine, most pharmacists reported receiving 80 to 90 shots per store, while Shoppers in Port Moody, the only location delivering COVID-19 vaccines in the city, got 200.

The Tri-City News has reached out to the Ministry of Health to find out when more AstraZeneca shots will be available for the 55 to 65 vaccination campaign.

However, the Vancouver Sun has reported that the province had just 13,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which it had to use up before an April 2 expiration date; B.C. is expecting 43,000 more doses from the federal government on Friday.


According to the latest census statistics, there are more than 19,000 people aged 55-64 in Coquitlam alone. With 15 pharmacies in the Tri-Cities limited to between several dozen or a couple of hundred AstraZeneca shots, it’s likely most young boomers will have to wait longer for their vaccines.

As for the age-based campaign, seniors 73 years and older reported a smooth roll out at the new Coquitlam clinic in the Poirier Forum, which opened Monday.

For those looking to book vaccine appointments over the Easter long weekend, Fraser Health is reminding people to take note of changes in the online booking registration as it switches over to a provincial online booking system on April 6.

Fraser Health’s self-serve online booking tool will operate only in the evenings: On Friday, April 2, and Monday, April 5, it will be open from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m., while on Saturday, April 3, and Sunday, April 4, it will run from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

During the day, people can call the telephone booking system at 1-855-755-2455.

The phone line will operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, April 2, and Monday, April 5, to align with the statutory holidays.