Frustration mounts as demand for Alberta’s rapid test kits outstrips supply

Frustration mounts as demand for Alberta’s rapid test kits outstrips supply

‘They are phoning everywhere and we are all out,’ says Edmonton pharmacy owner

Rapid test kits are in short supply across Alberta but more should be delivered to pharmacies after the middle of January, Alberta Health says. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Albertans frustrated by the search for rapid test kits will have to wait until later this month for new supplies to arrive in pharmacies.

Additional supply should be available to ship to pharmacies the week of Jan. 17, an Alberta Health spokesperson told CBC News.

Before then, additional supplies may be limited due to the anticipated delivery dates from manufacturers and Health Canada, Christa Jubinville said in a statement Wednesday.

An interactive booking map provided by the Alberta government was last updated on Dec. 31.

Frustrations are growing over the lack of information about test availability and supply timelines, leaving many – pharmacists included – asking for more transparent communication from the province. 1:18

It shows that no tests are available at any of the pharmacies selected to supply them in Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary. Select Alberta Health Services clinics have also offered test kits.

“Daily shipments continue to AHS locations, based on an as-needed basis, and shipments to pharmacies continue as supplies are available,” Jubinville said.

‘So frustrating’

Ghada Haggag, who owns All Care Pharmacy in Edmonton, said her phone has been ringing off the hook as people try to track down any remaining kits.

She said her store has been out of stock for days.

“It’s so frustrating,” Haggag said. “Everybody keeps phoning; they have the whole list from A to Z of all the pharmacies everywhere in Edmonton.

“They are phoning everywhere and we are all out. All the pharmacies are out.” 

As of Thursday morning, Haggag said pre-orders for fresh deliveries are now being accepted, something she described as good news for Albertans still on the hunt.

Ghada Haggag is the owner and operator of All Care Pharmacy in Edmonton’s Capilano neighbourhood. She says pharmacies across the province have run out of rapid test kits. (Stephen Cook/CBC)

The rapid tests, nasal swabs that can provide results in minutes, are the only kind of COVID-19 testing currently being offered to most Albertans.

Last month,with Omicron cases rising rapidly, the province tightened eligibility for PCR tests, reserving the lab capacity for people who work in high-risk settings or are at high risk of severe outcomes.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the changes are meant to ensure provincial labs aren’t overwhelmed.

The rapid tests were made available in late December at hundreds of sites, on a first-come, first-served basis. Demand was strong from the start, with some sites running out of initial stockpiles within hours.

‘Looking and hunting’

Vinod John has been searching for rapid tests since last week, when his 21-year-old son developed a severe headache, fever, a cough and a scratchy sore throat.

John said he has driven all over Edmonton, visiting at least six pharmacies and calling a dozen more.

“None of the pharmacies are carrying them,” John said. “The management is so poor that we are left in the lurch, looking and hunting for ourselves and not knowing what will be the next steps that we should be taking.” 

It’s a bit scary. We’re breathing the same air and just want to be able to get all of us tested.- Vinod John

After three days of searching, John said he was contacted by a family friend who had a single swab to spare.

His son tested positive on Sunday and is isolating in a basement bedroom. John said he’s concerned about the virus spreading to his wife and daughter. 

“It’s a bit scary,” he said. “We’re breathing the same air and just want to be able to get all of us tested as often as we should.”

The province needs to ensure a steady supply of the kits is available or restore the availability of PCR testing, John said. 

“This is not just my story. Millions of people in this province are, I think, going through the same dilemma.” 

The supply issues have been made worse by communication issues, said Sarah Mackey with the volunteer group Vaccine Hunters Alberta. 

“People are desperately trying to get these kits,” Mackey said. “It’s a huge equity issue because it’s only people who are able to drop everything and rush to a pharmacy who even have a chance of getting them.”

On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said the province would be receiving nearly 15 million more tests by the end of January. The federal government is also providing four million.

One million tests arrived last week and another three million will arrive each week in January. 

About 4.3 million tests will be provided to K-12 classrooms the week of Jan. 10. Another 4.3 million will be distributed in schools later this month.

Watch: How to administer a rapid test at home:

With the province releasing home rapid COVID-19 test kits, Edmonton pharmacist Shivali Sharma shows CBC’s Pippa Reed how to use one properly. 1:51

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