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2021: What went well and what’s next for pharmacy teams as vaccinators

In December 2020, Neighbourhood Pharmacies collaborated on a report about community pharmacy’s readiness for COVID-19 vaccinations, which highlighted the value pharmacy teams bring in terms of accessibility, knowledge and trust. Simply put, it just makes sense for your neighbourhood pharmacy to be administering vaccinations. 
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Shelita Dattani, Pharm.D., RPh

In just under 12 months, pharmacy teams in communities across Canada have administered almost 16 million vaccines.

On average, that’s over 20% of all COVID-19 vaccines! And in some provinces, like Alberta and Nova Scotia, pharmacies have administered the majority of COVID-19 vaccines. Amazing! 

In December 2020, Neighbourhood Pharmacies collaborated on a report about community pharmacy’s readiness for COVID-19 vaccinations, which highlighted the value that pharmacy teams bring in terms of accessibility, knowledge and trust.1 Simply put, it just makes sense for your neighbourhood pharmacy to be administering vaccinations. 

In Neighbourhood Pharmacies Vaccines Readiness Revisited publication released just last month,2 we looked back at the recommendations we put forward last year, highlighted and provided our thoughts on what worked and what lessons we learned.

Read: Resource on nirmatrelvir/ritonavir for prescribers and pharmacists

Here’s a recap of the six key lessons from the report that really resonated with me:

  1. Misinformation can be more viral the virus itself!! 
    • All of us—and I mean all of us, government, health system partners, healthcare providers—need be ready to dedicate the time, energy and consistency in communication that’s needed to keep public trust. There's so much deliberate effort discrediting public health communication, we owe it to our communities and patients to counter that in an aligned and productive way.  
  2. Guidance can change 10 times faster than a COVID-19 variant can emerge 
    • We need to be able to keep up with the speed of change and consistently communicate those changes.
  3. In a pandemic, policy changes can leak like a faucet
    • Policy changes were often announced or leaked by media before they reached our pharmacy operators through official channels. This just isn’t right. Pharmacy teams should not be hearing about changes to vaccination eligibility from their patients.  Neighbourhood Pharmacies continues to advocate for pharmacy teams across the country to be informed and educated on policy changes that impact them and their patients before announcements are made.
  4. We need to be able to “see” the supply and leverage the medication supply chain.
    • While fair and transparent allocation was a shared goal, it wasn’t always realized at all levels and jurisdictions. In addition, not all jurisdictions used wholesale distributors to get vaccines to pharmacies. 
    • Neighbourhood Pharmacies continues to emphasize that “pull” distribution models leveraging the efficiencies of wholesale distribution will be a key enabler in COVID-19 and all vaccination efforts.
  5. Pharmacy teams are healthcare workers and community pharmacies are healthcare hubs. Governments need to recognize this in all the right ways with all the same priorities given to other health care workers.
    • While all jurisdictions recognized pharmacies as essential services early on, it took more effort than we expected to get pharmacy teams prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination in the same way that their colleagues in hospitals and other healthcare environments were prioritized. Neighbourhood Pharmacies advocated consistently and directly for pharmacy teams to be prioritized for first doses, second doses and boosters.
  6. Vaccination service fees should reflect the time and complexity needed to support people through the entire vaccine journey—not just the “jab."
    • Vaccination administration service fees across the country ranged broadly - from $13- $25.3 While nearly everyone landed higher than they did for service fees for influenza vaccination, the difference just wasn’t enough, considering the time and commitment pharmacy teams have invested - booking patients, answering questions, and building vaccine confidence.  The gain here is that governments have a better appreciation now for the value and complexity of immunization services in pharmacy.  One of Neighbourhood Pharmacies key priorities in 2022 will be expanding access to all routine immunizations in pharmacy and advocating for fair and reasonable remuneration for immunization services.

This past year, Neighbourhood Pharmacies and provincial pharmacy associations successfully advocated for administration of COVID-19 vaccines in pharmacies across the country. Through our collective efforts, we delivered more than 16 million shots in arms This is extraordinary and demonstrates how vital and nimble community pharmacy is as a public health partner when enabled.  

We also know it’s been such a tough year on pharmacy teams.  They gave so much of themselves in their hard work, their kindness, and their commitment to the communities they serve.   Their resilience was tested time and time again.  On top of giving COVID-19 vaccinations, pharmacy teams gave influenza vaccinations, stayed open e, and practised to the top of their scope to ensure patients had continuity of medications care. They provided virtual services, delivered medication and supplies, adapted prescriptions, and in some provinces administered COVID-19 tests.

The herculean efforts of our pharmacy sector have taken a toll.  Teams are exhausted and burned out. And now covid related illness is also contributing to staff shortages and absenteeism One of the biggest lessons learned for us at Neighbourhood Pharmacies is to support the sector’s bigger commitment to protect the health, wellbeing, resiliency, and sustainability of pharmacy teams across Canada so that we can continue to optimize our contributions as health care partners and community health hubs. Stay tuned for more work we will be doing in that area in 2022. 

Shelita Dattani is vice-president, pharmacy affairs, Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada and a practising community and primary care team pharmacist.


  1. COVID-19 Vaccine and Pharmacy Readiness.  Recommendations from CPhA and Neighbourhood Pharmacies.  Published December 17, 2020.
  2. Vaccine Readiness Revisited – What Went Well. December 2021
  3. Scaling Heights – The Role of Community Pharmacy in Covid Vaccinations and What’s on The Horizon. Neighbourhood Pharmacy Gazette – Fall-Winter 2021 (Issue 6).
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