Senior Director of Pharmacy
I can remember the day that the first vaccines arrived at St. Michael’s Hospital. We received our allocation just before Christmas, so it felt like an early gift from Santa Claus. A UPS truck flanked by three police cars delivered the doses to our Bond Street entrance. We were all waiting there and we watched as the UPS driver exited his truck with a little box. It was just one box, but three police officers accompanied the driver. We led them to the room where we kept the freezer and even after we signed for the delivery and the UPS driver left, the police wouldn’t leave until they witnessed us open all the locks on the freezer and put the doses inside.
Everything happened so quickly to prepare for the first delivery. With the help of a wonderful team of people from many different areas, we assembled the St. Michael’s vaccine clinic in about a week. I came into work on a Saturday for about two to three hours so we could undergo an Ontario Provincial Police inspection. The officers questioned the security including where the drop off loading dock was, how we would get the doses to the pharmacy, where exactly we planned to store the doses and how secure that location was. This level of security is not something that we deal with on a regular basis even though the pharmacy has a variety of medications coming through our path every single day. But at the time, the vaccines were liquid gold.
In my role, I’ve been in charge of receiving and distributing the vaccine. I receive notice from the Ministry of Health regarding the vaccine supply we will receive the following week. Managing the inventory has become much more complicated as we expand our vaccine strategy. We started with one clinic at St. Michael’s and now we have increased our hospital clinics, Ontario Health Team and partnered clinics and pop-up clinics as well as outreach teams.
There are many ways to divide the vaccine supply based on what we need to support, where we should emphasize vaccines and whether we’re doing second doses. As part of a team, we discuss the potential options and finalize our decisions weekly. These decisions then are executed by several managers and with the help of the procurement team, we organize when everyone will get their vaccines and how.
The changes show us that scientists are constantly learning in order to present society with the best information that they know at that point in time for a virus that we didn’t know much about just one year ago.
The daily changes make the role challenging. Today’s plan is today’s plan. We realize that it could change by tomorrow and we work with our teams to communicate and execute the changes. It is definitely complex and ever-changing.
As the media continues to cover clinical trials and the progression of vaccines, I think people now have a better understanding of the development of pharmaceuticals as well as where Canada stands in the global pharmaceutical market. People also have a better grasp of how science changes over time and that science isn’t static.
The changes show us that scientists are constantly learning in order to present society with the best information that they know at that point in time for a virus that we didn’t know much about just one year ago. What we knew about vaccines between December and now is vastly different. It’s pretty amazing that we had an highly effective vaccine by December, and now we have four of them.
I don’t think any of us knew in February 2020 how fundamentally everything in our lives would change. I don’t think I’ll go back to how it was before, but rather something different, something hopefully better. This pandemic has demonstrated how interconnected we all are, as a province and as a country. If there are other parts of the world suffering from bad outbreaks, then we are impacted too. We’re not going to get out of this until everyone gets out of it.
Clarence Chant is the Senior Director of Pharmacy at Unity Health Toronto.
As told to Jessica Cabral. Photos by Katie Cooper. This interview has been edited and condensed.