Here’s why Ontario pharmacists say Doug Ford is wrong to blame pharmacies for flu shot backlogs

Ontario pharmacists are banding together against Premier Doug Ford, after he blamed Rexall for ‘overbooking’ customers for flu shots.

They claim that it was actually the province who fell short in their promise to deliver flu shots to pharmacies, after they had already booked hundreds of appointments.

“There were expectations of supply coming in and the actual supply that they received did not match those previous orders or order history,” said Justin Bates, the CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA), who says demand for flu shots has increased by 500 per cent compared to last year.

“It’s disappointing in general for anyone to be pointing fingers during what is a public health crisis.”

On Monday, Ford pointed the finger at Rexall for people being rejected for their flu shots after they had booked an appointment.

“You knew exactly how many flu shots you had…so don’t overbook. If you have ‘x’ amount of flu shots, book ‘x’ amount of flu shots,” said Ford.

“So Premier Doug Ford said you knew, you knew the amount of doses that you were getting and that is false,” said Kristen Watt, owner of Kristen’s Pharmacy in Southampton, Ontario.

The OPA says pharmacies across Ontario were allowed to order 50 per cent of the flu shots they used last year from the Ministry of Health.

After that shipment arrived in October and got used up quickly, the OPA said pharmacies got confirmation that they would be allowed to order a refill of doses for up to 60 per cent of their initial order used.

“For busy pharmacies like mine, that 60 per cent was hundreds of doses that we were expecting, that we had booked appointments for because the communication that had come out to us was that we should be expect it,” said Watt.

“Historically, we have received what we ordered.”

But Watt says just days before she was supposed to get the new shipment of flu shots, the province changed its mind and capped the dosage to only 40 flu shots per day for each pharmacy, which meant she lost hundreds of doses and was forced to cancel hundreds of appointments.

“It was absolute chaos for the weekend,” said Watt.

“It was a matter of trying to move appointments around, push people back to rebook, apologize.”

The OPA says almost all pharmacists faces a similar situation across the province.

Other independent pharmacies, like Junction Chemist Pharmacy, claim that they were capped off at 40 doses per day right off the bat when the flu season began.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook because people are panicked, they’re looking to get their flu shot wherever they can,” said Junction Chemist Pharmacy owner, Barbara Violo.

She claims now all she can order is about 10 to 20 doses at a time online.

“So it’s just a big question mark,” she said. “We never know really what we’re going to get or what we’re allowed to get, so it was a really difficult situation for us.”

However, the Ministry of Health tells Global News that ‘pharmacies knew how many doses they’d be receiving.’

“The claim that the Ministry of Health had promised pharmacies a 60 per cent refill of doses in late October once they ran out of their initial amount is false,” said Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene

“In September 2020, pharmacies had an opportunity to request additional doses for their first order. The ministry increased initial supply of vaccine for pharmacies by 80,000 doses and communicated this additional distribution to the pharmacies,” added Hilkene.

“As avoiding vaccine wastage is very important due to the expected increase in demand this year, multiple shipments of the flu vaccine helps to ensure that doses are being used as efficiently and effectively as possible.’

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