Opinion

The Manitoba government is not hitting its COVID-19 immunization targets. Despite rising infection rates and rapidly spreading variants of concern, the province has failed to meet two crucial benchmarks: immunizing 70 per cent of Manitobans in their 60s and 70s by early to mid-April.

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The Manitoba government is not hitting its COVID-19 immunization targets. Despite rising infection rates and rapidly spreading variants of concern, the province has failed to meet two crucial benchmarks: immunizing 70 per cent of Manitobans in their 60s and 70s by early to mid-April.

Even with a steady supply of vaccines from the federal government (and a stockpile of close to 120,000 doses still in freezers), the province is not meeting its timetable for those age cohorts.

According to Manitoba Health’s immunization schedule, 70 per cent of Manitobans aged 60-69 were supposed to get their first dose of the vaccine by Thursday. As of Tuesday, only 27 per cent of that cohort has had an injection.

The province projected 70 per cent of those aged 70-79 would get their first vaccine by April 5. More than a week later, 66 per cent in that age group have received a first dose.

When asked why the province has fallen behind, a government spokesperson mistakenly claimed those benchmarks are for high-range supply projections only.

"As we explain in our technical briefings, there are high-range and low-range scenarios based on supply of vaccine and eligible people booking their appointments promptly," the spokesperson said in an email. "Your question focuses on the high-range scenario. The reality of hitting our target will likely be between those two scenarios."

In fact, the timeline is the same under either scenario for both age groups, according to the province’s weekly technical briefing documents. Those haven’t changed since March 8.

Download Provincial timelines for vaccine distribution

Based on both timelines and vaccines already in stock, the province isn’t hitting its targets for those age groups (it has for older Manitobans; 83 per cent of those over the age of 80 have received at least one dose).

Government officials either don’t understand their own vaccination schedule, or they’re trying to deliberately mislead. Either way, it’s further evidence of how poorly the province’s vaccine rollout has been managed.

"Currently, we are working our way through the age cohorts and are optimistic our target goals will be achieved (by the) end of this month," the spokesperson said.

"It was just last Friday when 60 year olds became eligible for their vaccinations; it will take some time for these appointments to be conducted and reflected in our data counts."

The fact 60 year olds became eligible to make appointments only last week shows how far behind government has fallen.

Every week the province fails to get doses into arms means Manitobans — especially those older than 60 — are at higher risk of severe outcomes and death.

Every week the province fails to get doses into arms means Manitobans ‐ especially those older than 60 ‐ are at higher risk of severe outcomes and death.

Solutions have been proposed to government to get vaccines into arms quicker; all have been rejected. Government seems determined to stick to a slow, low-performance rollout no matter the outcomes.

The 54,600 AstraZeneca doses the province received April 3 (distributed to medical clinics and pharmacies) are being administered at a snail’s pace. Fewer than 3,000 of those doses have been doled out in more than a week. The entire shipment should have been in people’s arms by now (through whatever distribution channel was necessary to get the job done).

It’s unclear whether vaccine hesitancy around the AstraZeneca brand is playing a role, or whether some providers can’t administer shots quickly enough. Whatever the case, it should be fixed immediately, starting with expanding eligibility.

The province has not received a vaccine shipment in five days, yet still has an inventory of 118,318 doses. Health officials are not even close to running out, as they often predict they would following a period of no shipments.

There are at least 100,000 Manitobans who should have been immunized by now who aren't. There is no excuse for this. Manitoba’s vaccine rollout has gone from utter incompetence to gross negligence.

Meanwhile, the province is scheduled to receive another 77,400 doses this week.

Provincial officials said last week they could "pivot" to a faster system if necessary. It's time to pivot. This is an emergency.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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