‘They gave it to corporate:’ Independent pharmacies frustrated by Ontario Pfizer rollout pilot

TORONTO — An Ontario pilot program where select pharmacies will soon administer the Pfizer vaccine is expected to rollout in the coming days.

Some independent pharmacies, who say they were supposed to be a part of the pilot, are voicing their frustration after learning they were “dropped.”

“On Tuesday, I got a call saying our store got dropped from the list,” said Medhat Gerges, owner of Weston Jane Pharmacy.

Mina Maseh, owner of WestKing Pharmacy on Weston Road, said the same happened to him.

“A day or so ago we get a calling saying ‘sorry you guys were pulled out.”

Maseh said his pharmacy, which is located in a hot spot postal code, flew through its supply of AstraZeneca without a hiccup.

“We gave them all out.”

Sixteen Toronto-area pharmacies that were successful in the AstraZeneca rollout were recommended to be part of the Pfizer pilot.

“We always advocate for a level playing field and to have equitable representation,” said Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.

Bates said the OPA received a short-list of locations to choose from. They were approved by Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Health.

From that list, the OPA made its recommendations and suggested an even-split of eight independent and eight corporate.

Instead, pharmacists in hard-hit areas said public health chose four independent and 12 corporate, such as Loblaw.

“They gave it to corporate stores and they took the independent out, which doesn’t make sense to me. Independents have been doing a great job,” Maseh said.

Some Pfizer appointments were already booked at the Gerges’ pharamacy.

“We have to call everyone now to cancel and they get so upset,” Amel Gerges said. “It’s not fair.”

In a statement to CTV News Toronto, a Toronto Public Health spokesperson said it will “continue to apply any new vaccination recommendations and guidance from the province based on our local context once information is confirmed and made publicly available.”

“For further information about the program, please contact the Ontario Pharmacists Association and the Ministry of Health as leads on this topic,” the statement reads.

CTV News Toronto has contacted the province for comment, but has not yet received a response.

“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a full balance of independents participating,” Bates said.

However, he assured the pilot is only two-weeks and will soon be expanded.

Meanwhile, some primary care doctors are also feeling left out.

“It’s puzzling,” said Dr. Tara Kiran, a family physician at St. Michael’s hospital.

“We’ve been advocating for this for many months. I can only think that maybe it relates to relationships and relationships with decision-makers to potentially our pharmacists and who’s running pharmacies.”

While some wait for an even playing field, they all agree the common goal is to inoculate as many people as possible.

“I may have lost money on vaccine rollout. It’s about my patients. It’s about the people that I know,” Maseh said.

Bates said there are more than 1,000 Ontario pharmacies in a queue eager administer vaccines.

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