‘We’ve never seen it this busy before’: COVID-19 rapid tests in high demand at Edmonton-based pharmacies

“When we got it the first time, we had zero information that we are going to get it again”

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Some Edmonton pharmacies have been running out their COVID-19 rapid test supply within hours, as demand increases with the rise of the Omicron variant in the province.

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Ghada Haggag, owner of All Care Pharmacy in the Capilano neighbourhood, said she’s gone through seven boxes of the rapid tests, each containing 108 kits.

“It’s a crazy time, we’ve never seen it this busy before,” said Haggag. “The first Friday it was -29 C, we opened at 9 a.m. and I had a line up outside even to the grocery store nearby, like you cannot imagine, 35 people lining up before you open.”

Haggag said kits have been picked up from people living in Fort Saskatchewan and Sherwood Park because their local pharmacy wasn’t a part of the rapid test program. She added her friend’s pharmacy in the west end was getting customers from Spruce Grove and Stony Plain.

Haggag said her pharmacy received four boxes of the tests on Dec. 17 and three more on Dec. 23 — running out within three-and-a-half hours each time. However, she said she is unsure when she will be able to order more tests.

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“When we got it the first time, we had zero information that we are going to get it again,” she said. “When we don’t get communication from the government, we don’t know if we’re going to get more tests or not.”

On the days the pharmacy had rapid tests in stock, Haggag said she had two pharmacists, one technician and an organizer outside managing the line to make for a smooth process.

People line up to get a free box of five Covid-19 Antigen rapid tests at a Capilano pharmacy on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 .
People line up to get a free box of five Covid-19 Antigen rapid tests at a Capilano pharmacy on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 . Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

Boyle McCauley Pharmacy received just one shipment of rapid tests back on Dec. 17 and store manager Rajeh Abuzahra said they were out of stock within 72 hours.

“It was really busy. There was a huge demand and people were really keen and they wanted to get their test kit,” said Abuzahra. “It was really running out fast and I didn’t expect it to run out that fast to be honest with you.”

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Abuzhara said offering rapid tests to Edmontonians can help control the pandemic and the pharmacy will order more when they become available.

Since the first shipment was made available to Albertans on Dec. 17, 3.8 million rapid tests have been shipped out to AHS clinics and pharmacies, said Lisa Glover, assistant director for Alberta Health.

“We have a current inventory of about 4.4 million tests,” she said in an email Monday. “All of that inventory is committed to the public distribution and resupplying existing testing programs. Pharmacies and AHS facilities have received additional stock throughout the week.”

Glover said Alberta is yet to receive another 4.3 million tests that are requested for December, although there is no firm delivery date. She said they will continue to work with the federal government, but they need a lot more tests.

She said stock will fluctuate depending on when new supply arrives and pharmacies can place new orders when they receive more tests.

“We’re looking into buying our own rapid tests in addition to those we receive from the federal government, in order to increase our supply to up to 10 million tests a month starting in January,” said Glover.

Distribution plans have not been finalized, but most or all of those tests would likely be needed for public distribution, she said.

ktaniguchi@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kellentaniguchi

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