Pharmacies having trouble securing vaccines amid distribution woes in Ontario

Some pharmacies report not getting enough vaccine doses needed to fulfill bookings: 'People will suffer'

If you've had bad luck securing your flu or COVID-19 vaccines for autumn 2023, you're not alone: An Ontario pharmacist says his businesses are having a hard time getting stocked up.

An east Toronto pharmacist is sounding the alarm in the wake of the Ontario Ministry of Health awarding Shoppers Drug Mart a contract as sole distributor of publicly funded vaccines — a move he says is resulting in a botched vaccine season for independent pharmacies across the province.

As a result, Kyro Maseh, who owns two independent pharmacies in Toronto, says he is no longer offering vaccinations at his locations.

In a thread posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, that has since gone viral, Maseh writes: "After administering thousands of vaccines over the past few years, we've made the tough decision to conclude our vaccine season, & possibly for all future seasons for publicly funded vaccines."

In an interview with Yahoo News Canada, Maseh explains that earlier this year, the Ontario Ministry of Health — through a government bidding process— awarded Shoppers Drug Mart a contract to supply vaccine doses to independent Pharmasave locations across the province.

"Following the switch in distributors, we would place an order for 200 doses to fulfill bookings and only 20 would show up. This is unacceptable," Maseh said.

In some cases, he says the vaccine shipping containers "would arrive empty."

Shoppers Drug Mart, Canada's largest vaccine provider, typically handles the distribution for their branded locations, but Maseh says when they were awarded the contract to supply vaccines to Pharmasave locations, their distribution channels were unable to keep up with demand.

"We are having to turn patients away without any knowledge of when doses are available," Maseh said. "Instead of vaccinating someone in five minutes, you are having to explain why there isn't any vaccines over 15 minutes."

Maseh says the frustration when interacting with patients is evident, and in some cases, the pharmacists are subjected to verbal abuse.

Maseh tried to get in touch with the Ontario Ministry of Health but he says he never received a response.

Maseh says he is going public on social media to sound an alarm as we head into the winter season when colds and viruses run rampant, when vaccinations play a key role in keeping vulnerable members of the population safe. He worries with Ontarians struggling to book vaccine appointments, they simply won't get the necessary shots, and hospital systems will get overwhelmed as people socialize over the holidays and get sick.

Shoppers Drug Mart has responded to the claims by sharing a statement over social media.

"We have adequate supply of vaccines and distribute to pharmacies based on a pre-determined weekly allocation per pharmacy, set out by Public Health Ontario," the statement reads.

In an emailed statement to Yahoo News Canada, Ontario Minister of Health spokesperson Hannah Jensen wrote: "Shoppers Drug Mart was chosen through a competitive procurement process as one of the distribution partners for Ontario’s vaccine rollout."

Jensen affirmed that the health ministry met with Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmasave representatives, and says plans are in place to have regular touchpoints over the course of the vaccine rollout to manage any issues that arise, including requests for additional vaccine allocation.

Public shares frustration

Ontario residents are taking to X to voice the challenges they face when attempting to book a flu or COVID-19 vaccination at independent pharmacies.

One X user details having to to to Shoppers Drug Mart to receive her COVID-19 vaccination after the independent pharmacy she attends did not have any in stock.

Another X user details attempting to book a vaccine appointment, and was made to wait until the location had an adequate supply.

This X user states that the Pharmasave they go to stopped offering vaccines completely.