Despite the hours lost by Manitoba health-care providers forced to listen to hold music and repeatedly dial-in to the province's COVID-19 immunization hotline over the weekend, vaccines will make it into the arms of eligible staff without delay.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin promised as much Monday, after the telephone booking system launched Saturday was overwhelmed by those trying to secure one of just 900 spots at Manitoba's first COVID-19 immunization clinic.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

Despite the hours lost by Manitoba health-care providers forced to listen to hold music and repeatedly dial-in to the province's COVID-19 immunization hotline over the weekend, vaccines will make it into the arms of eligible staff without delay.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin promised as much Monday, after the telephone booking system launched Saturday was overwhelmed by those trying to secure one of just 900 spots at Manitoba's first COVID-19 immunization clinic.

"It was a lot of people calling in, and there's initial screening questions with the key pad that many people weren't being fully forthcoming with, and so still getting to an operator, and so that tied up a lot of time," Roussin said.

Dr. Brent Roussin said the phone system had to find a way to "screen out" people who weren't eligible to receive the first available doses of the vaccine on the weekend.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Brent Roussin said the phone system had to find a way to "screen out" people who weren't eligible to receive the first available doses of the vaccine on the weekend.

"The actual time per screener, per appointment was quite long, over two hours, because they were requiring to go through so many people to even get to one person who was qualified."

Roussin said the phone line — a number which had been provided internally to health-care workers but posted publicly — received hundreds of thousands of calls. He apologized to eligible health-care workers who had to call many times and wait for hours to get an appointment.

The first 900 initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine available in Manitoba are being prioritized for health-care workers who provide patient care in critical care units, acute care facilities, long-term care facilities or assigned to COVID-19 immunization clinics, within a select age range.

"The actual time per screener, per appointment was quite long, over two hours, because they were requiring to go through so many people to even get to one person who was qualified." — Dr. Brent Roussin

"We certainly didn't want to keep our health-care workers on the line that long and cause that much frustration for them... but it's a big program, it's in the early stages, and we need to expect some hiccups like this," Roussin said.

"But these hiccups are very unlikely to have resulted in a delay of even a minute for a single dose."

The province was on track to book all 900 appointments by the end of the day, he said. The first vaccinations are scheduled to be plunged into the arms of health-care workers at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Nine deaths, 241 new cases for Manitoba

On Monday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin reported the deaths of nine more Manitobans due to COVID-19, while the province's test positivity rate remains above 13 per cent.

There were 241 new cases of the virus reported in Manitoba, 158 of them in the Winnipeg health region, 38 in Southern Health, 23 in Northern Health, 12 in Prairie Mountain, and 10 in Interlake-Eastern.

On Monday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin reported the deaths of nine more Manitobans due to COVID-19, while the province's test positivity rate remains above 13 per cent.

There were 241 new cases of the virus reported in Manitoba, 158 of them in the Winnipeg health region, 38 in Southern Health, 23 in Northern Health, 12 in Prairie Mountain, and 10 in Interlake-Eastern.

Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said there were 386 patients in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 303 with active infections.

Data on hospitalizations in Prairie Mountain was not available Monday. In Winnipeg, intensive care units were at 154 per cent of pre-pandemic capacity, with 105 patients admitted, 47 of whom had or have COVID-19.

There are COVID-19 outbreaks in 49 personal care homes, and 16 different outbreaks in 10 hospitals across the province, Siragusa said.

The deaths announced Monday include: a man in his 40s, a man in his 50s and a woman in her 80s from the Winnipeg region.

Six others died in outbreaks at personal care homes: a woman in her 80s linked to Park Manor (Winnipeg); a woman in her 80s and two women in their 90s linked to Convalescent Home of Winnipeg; a man in his 80s linked to Fred Douglas Lodge (Winnipeg); and a woman in her 90s linked to Rest Haven Nursing Home (Steinbach).

The total number of deaths in Manitoba due to COVID-19 is now 499.

As for the province's decision to have people call in, rather than directly offer time slots to eligible employees, Roussin said officials took the opportunity to iron out "growing pains" ahead of an expanded vaccination program.

"We wanted to use this as a chance to evaluate a lot of our program, because going forward, we're going to have increasing amounts of vaccine supply, so we can't just specifically invite individuals going forward," Roussin said.

A spokesman for Health Minister Cameron Friesen declined to comment Monday on the booking system, saying it is an "operational matter."

Shifting blame for the botched roll-out of the vaccine appointment booking system reflects a pattern of inadequate planning and accountability, said NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara.

"At this point, it is totally unacceptable... to not be accountable for things that do not go well during the pandemic," Asagwara said in an interview. "The (health) minister is the first person to shout from the rooftops when things go well, and he's the last person to take responsibility when things don't go well."

The government could've made it easier for hospital staff — such as two doctors in their 60s who reported their struggles to the Free Press — to book a vaccination appointment, said Asagwara, who has worked as a nurse.

"I was surprised physicians wouldn't have been identified prior to the roll-out and wouldn't have been pre-registered and pre-screened."

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said a clear communication strategy around eligibility and enhanced pre-screening processes will be critical as the province moves to vaccinate more citizens.

"It’s really important that this government gets this roll-out right," Jackson said. "We’re starting with 900, but those vaccines are going to continue to come.

"The (health) minister is the first person to shout from the rooftops when things go well, and he's the last person to take responsibility when things don't go well." — NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara

"We’ve got nurses who are working long hours, lots of days in a row, and then to spend hours waiting on the phone to get your name on a list for an injection, I think is tough," she said. "They’re going to have to really look at making it easier to access."

Meanwhile, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called for the provincial government to clearly outline when people might be eligible to receive a vaccine, and why groups are prioritized, so the public knows what to expect.

"It’s clearly a bit of a fiasco right now," Lamont said. "Hopefully, they can learn lessons from this and they’re making mistakes early, but it never should have been handled this way in the first place.

"This is incredibly important, and part of managing this is managing peoples’ expectations about when it’s going to happen."

Lynda Tjaden, Executive Director Population and Public Health, Manitoba Health Seniors and Active Living shows Brian Pallister, Premier of Manitoba, the special -80 degree freezers at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

CP

Lynda Tjaden, Executive Director Population and Public Health, Manitoba Health Seniors and Active Living shows Brian Pallister, Premier of Manitoba, the special -80 degree freezers at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

On Monday, following a tour of the province's first COVID-19 immunization clinic at the downtown Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, Premier Brian Pallister called for the public to have patience.

"Our COVID-19 vaccine implementation task force have been working diligently to ensure our immunization roll-out is as safe and effective as possible to protect Manitobans most at risk of this deadly virus," Pallister said in a written statement.

"We will continue to provide regular updates to inform Manitobans when and how they can receive a life-saving vaccine."

— with files from Carol Sanders and Katie May

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

   Read full biography