by Ajit Johal BSc (Pharm) RPh BCPP CDE CTH
As a first-year pharmacy graduate, I ran the first ever influenza vaccine campaign at my Dad’s community pharmacy in the fall of 2012. Since then, immunization has become my passion. I went on to establish travel medicine services, a non-profit organization to increase immunization awareness (Immunize.io), and to teach the topic at the UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
When the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared by the WHO in March of 2020, I was doubtful that a vaccine would become imminently available. When the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine was approved by Health Canada in December of 2020, the country was ready to fight back. It has been a privilege to participate as a pharmacist immunizer within the health authority-led clinics in British Columbia, working alongside fellow pharmacists, nurses, and physician colleagues to prepare and administer immunizations to eligible BC residents as part of the phase 2 immunization campaign.
My experience at the clinics has been far more than just the technical act of administering an intramuscular injection. I have addressed lots of questions about the vaccines, pertaining to their rapid approval, vaccine safety, and the “effectiveness vs efficacy” of the currently approved vaccines. I have also shared in the overwhelming relief for those who have dreamed of the day when a vaccine would arrive. When the first vaccines were approved in Canada, I created a “COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions Document” as a resource for both patients and healthcare professionals. The document is updated frequently as information changes rapidly with the approval of more vaccine candidates. I have also used the FAQ document to document and address some of the questions I received at the COVID-19 vaccine clinics. It is available on the Immunize.io website Covid 19 Vaccination FAQs – immunize.io
One challenge at some of the BC COVID-19 clinics was communicating information about the vaccines to those who spoke different languages. Visible ethnic minority groups have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 in Canada and often experience social determinants of health. My fellow pharmacists Mark Zhou and Kenneth Lee encountered language barriers at some of the clinics, which led to some challenges. Together, we created translated information in simplified Chinese and Punjabi languages to help immunizers convey important information with those being vaccinated who communicate primarily in these languages. The translated materials were shared with local health authorities and are available for all healthcare professionals to download on the Immunize.io website Education – immunize.io
Pharmacists have played a key role participating in the health authority-led clinics all over the province of British Columbia. I have no doubt that community pharmacies will be successful in delivering vaccines to the community in the coming weeks. For pharmacists, immunizations are an area where we will always be needed. Even beyond the pandemic we cannot take for granted the value of protecting our patients from vaccine preventable diseases.
Ajit Johal BSc (Pharm) RPh BCPP CDE CTH has been providing immunizations and clinical education since 2012. As a community pharmacist, he is an accessible provider of immunizations to patients in the community. In 2018, he started an organization called immunize.io, with a mission statement of “taking our best shot at immunizing the world”. Through “immunize.io” he has worked with numerous organizations and communities to address “vaccine hesitancy” and improve access to vaccinations. He champions community pharmacists as leaders of immunization services, in particular in the area of recommended but “unfunded” vaccines. Ajit is also a clinical instructor for the University of British Columbia Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences Program. At UBC he coordinates the elective course for UBC Pharmacy students in the area of travel health and immunizations.