Booster demand outstrips supply in N.L. as long lines form for 3rd vaccine shot

December 21, 2021
Booster demand outstrips supply in N.L. as long lines form for 3rd vaccine shot


A long lineup outside a Shoppers Drug Mart in St. John’s as people wait to get their COVID-19 booster shot. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

The scramble to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots in Newfoundland and Labrador continued on Tuesday, as long lines formed outside of some pharmacies.

For the second day in a row, the Shoppers Drug Mart on Lemarchant Road in St. John’s was packed with people lining up even before the pharmacy opened. 

It mirrored the scene on Monday, when people waited for hours outside of the drugstore hoping to obtain the third booster shot to protect themselves from the fast-moving Omicron virus variant. 

“Before I came I actually saw a picture of the line here from yesterday, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be this bad,” said Roger White, as he waited his turn in line.

“I just want to get it as soon as I can, get it out of the way [so] I don’t have to think about it.”

Tuesday marked Day 2 for Kevin Hedges in trying to get his booster. Hedges was too late to the lineup on Monday, so he tried his luck again Tuesday morning. 

“I don’t have a car here, so I walked a couple of kilometres to get here,” he said. 

“It’s fine, it’s worth it. The booster will definitely improve the the efficacy.”

According to the provincial Department of Health and Community Services, 28,184 people in N.L. had received a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday. 

Feeling the pressure

Meanwhile, the group representing pharmacists in Newfoundland and Labrador says its members are feeling a burden since the announcement of the COVID-19 vaccine booster rollout plan.

“It’s been a very stressful week in the pharmacy world,” Janice Audeau, president of the Pharmacists Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL), told CBC Radio’s St. John’s Morning Show Tuesday.

“The supply is improving. Last week was very tough to try and get any. There was an additional 20,000 doses of vaccine that arrived in the province on Saturday, and those have been distributed through each of the [regional health authorities] and now making their way into pharmacies.”

Pharmacists are feeling the stress from the demand of COVID-19 booster doses, according to Janice Audeau, president of the Pharmacists Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Pharmacists are urging people to be patient as they continue to receive deliveries. There has been a lag between when supplies land in the province and when the doses are actually distributed. 

Audeau said more doses are expected either Tuesday or Wednesday. 

“The RHA has to distribute all of the orders, then they have to get delivered to pharmacies,” she said. 

Audeau said pharmacies are doing what they can, and it’s her understanding there will be a ramp up in public health clinics to help lighten the load. She said she doesn’t have the specifics of when that might happen.

Audeau also said the change in booster time line, from 26 weeks since the second dose to 22 weeks, means about 170,000 people are eligible for the booster right now. 

“We’re not set up to do mass vaccinations,” she said. “We’re certainly willing to do our part and help.”

CBC News has asked the Department of Health when large-scale public health clinics are expected to return.

80 per cent protection against Omicron

The coronavirus variant Omicron is beginning to take hold across Canada. Cases in Newfoundland and Labrador are also starting to tick up.

Rod Russell, a virologist and immunologist at Memorial University, said it’s known that a third dose of vaccine offers better protection against the variant than the initial two doses, and moving the timeline to 22 weeks after a second dose allows more people a faster road to protection. 

“Personally, I think it could be moved ahead further, but I think this is also affected by supply of vaccine and availability of resources for people to be able to administer vaccine,” he said. 

Russell said a booster dose offers about “twice as much” protection against Omicron. He said two doses give about 30 to 40 per cent protection against the variant, but three doses offer about 80 per cent. 

Rod Russell, a professor of virology and immunology at Memorial University, says a third dose of vaccine will offer nearly double the amount of protection against the Omicron coronavirus variant. (CBC)

Omicron is roughly three to four times more transmissible than the Delta variant, Russell said, and reduces the levels of antibodies by 20 to 40 times compared to Delta in response to the vaccine.

“There’s no doubt you can still get infected,” he said. 

“We know now that these vaccines are not great at protecting you from getting infected with the virus, for Omicron for sure, but of course it’s all still about keeping people from getting too sick.”

The big question that remains is the severity of illness through an Omicron infection, Russell said. 

He said early data from South Africa suggested Omicron may be more of a mild infection than previous variants, but there are also some suggestions that that might not be the case. He said more about the severity of infections should be known within the next week or two. 

“Regardless of whether or not this is a mild infection for most people, we have to take it seriously, at least right now,” he said. 

“Even if half as many people end up in the hospital, the fact that four times as many people are getting infected means that we can still have hospital overload.”

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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