Nearly two weeks after their most recent COVID-19 shot, Heather Star Williams and Brian Williams are piecing together what went wrong.
“I’m disappointed that the system let me down,” said Heather Star Williams.
The two followed Public Health’s recommendation and booked appointments to receive a bivalent vaccine. In their case, they booked the Pfizer bivalent.
Their confirmation indicated they would receive that shot, but days after their appointment at their local Lawtons Drug Store, they said they received a call from the pharmacy.
“That we had been given not the bivalent that we had booked for, but rather, I think she said the original Pzifer,” Williams said.
The same thing happened to their friends Debbie and Percy Paris.
That couple went to a Sobeys pharmacy in a different part of the Halifax Regional Municipality on a different day.
“How could that have happened? What was their system that they could have not checked or double-checked,” Debbie Paris said.
She noted that during her appointment, she asked the person giving her the shot if she was getting the bivalent.
She says she was told yes.
“Something triggered me that day, you know, just make sure I’m getting the right one here,” she said. “Thought I was.”
Both couples said they’ve spoken with their pharmacies and said both were told the packaging is similar.
CTV News went to another pharmacy and compared the vials.
The labels on the vials were the same colour and nearly exact except the bivalent indicated it was a bivalent vaccine and had one extra line reading “Original and Omicron BA.4/BA.5.”
In a statement from the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia, spokesperson Martha Lowe indicated that the organization is unable to speak as to why an error has occurred in an individual pharmacy.
“However, vaccine vials are very similar in look and that this may be contributing to the errors. The Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists is looking at this issue to determine if there is a specific cause,” Lowe said.
Sarah Dawson, the Public Affairs Lead for Sobeys said they are following all Public Health guidance on the look-alike packaging.
“The information that we’ve shared with our affected pharmacy patients from the Public Health Advisory Committee is that if Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna monovalent vaccines are used for a booster dose, they are considered valid,” Dawson said. “We are also taking our own additional steps to clearly differentiate the look-alike vaccine vials within our pharmacies to ensure that patients are getting the COVID-19 booster they requested when they booked.”
The couples question how often the mix up has happened. Both wanted to get the shot that was recommended by Public Health and are now concerned they didn’t.
“Knowing that I’m not protected for the variants is of some concern,” said Percy Paris, who called the mistake disheartening. “It’s not going to be consuming but it’s going to be somewhat alarming to me.”
Khalehla Perrault, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness, said as soon as the Department and Nova Scotia Health (NSH) became aware of the error, NSH released a memo to all vaccine providers reinforcing the difference between the two vaccines and how to avoid errors in administration.
Perrault said the Pfizer vaccine (ancestral) is authorized as a booster in Canada and is a safe and effective option for reducing the likelihood of severe outcomes from COVID-19, including the Omicron variant and Omicron sub-variants.
“Nonetheless public health is recommending that people 12+ years receive a bivalent vaccine for their fall dose,” she said. “If people have chosen to receive an ancestral Pfizer or Moderna vaccine as their fall dose, they do not need to book a bivalent dose.”
Perrault said individuals who have booked bivalent and who received ancestral vaccine by their provider will be offered an additional dose of a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine after a 3-month interval.
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