Opinion

It’s time for the Pallister government to stop telling Manitobans how many COVID-19 vaccines it “could” do if it had more supply and start getting the tens of thousands of doses sitting in freezers into people’s arms.

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This article was published 12/3/2021 (268 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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It’s time for the Pallister government to stop telling Manitobans how many COVID-19 vaccines it "could" do if it had more supply and start getting the tens of thousands of doses sitting in freezers into people’s arms.

Over the past week, the province has administered an average of only 2,129 doses per day. That’s a far cry from the 19,000 daily doses the province claims it could do if it had enough vaccines from the federal government.

According to the province's own data, it’s not a lack of supply that’s preventing Manitoba from ramping up operations.

As of Friday, Manitoba has administered a total of 99,842 shots since mid-December, about 63 per cent of the 159,220 doses it has received so far. That doesn’t include an additional shipment of 20,500 doses of Moderna vaccine expected this week, not yet included in the province’s figures. When those numbers are included — and when the 11,507 doses administered by First Nations are added (the province keeps track of those separately) — 111,349 doses out of 179,720 received have been administered. Less than two-thirds of doses received have been injected, and the federal government is sending Manitoban nearly 100,000 more doses over the next two weeks.

The province is expecting more than 200,000 doses in March and even more is projected for April.

The province has administered an average of only 2,129 doses per day over the past week, a far cry from the 19,000 daily doses the province claims it could do if it had enough vaccines from the federal government. (Brad Horrigan / The Hartford Courant files)

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The province has administered an average of only 2,129 doses per day over the past week, a far cry from the 19,000 daily doses the province claims it could do if it had enough vaccines from the federal government. (Brad Horrigan / The Hartford Courant files)

What's the holdup?

With Manitoba’s decision to delay second doses for up to four months, there’s no longer a need to ensure doses are available for future appointments. Last month's global supply disruption is over; vaccines are now pouring in. Manitoba has moved to a just-in-time delivery system. So why is the province still doing only about 2,000 jabs a day when it has the supply to do far more (and claims it has the capacity to do triple)? Health officials should be emptying the freezers.

No one from government has provided a clear answer. Instead, officials keep repeating talking points that the only factor preventing them from ramping up immunizations is a lack of supply. It makes no sense when there are tens of thousands of doses sitting in freezers with more shipments on the way.

Even after multiple announcements last week that all provinces would see at least a doubling of their supply in the coming weeks, there was no evidence this week of a ramp-up of Manitoba's operations.

On Monday, 1,826 doses were administered; Tuesday, 2,032. The number increased slightly to 2,998 Wednesday but fell again Thursday to 2,059.

Where’s the "firehose" vaccine rollout Premier Brian Pallister assured Manitobans weeks ago was in place?

There are thousands of doses sitting in freezers in Manitoba with more shipments on the way. (Evan Vucci / The Associated Press files)

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There are thousands of doses sitting in freezers in Manitoba with more shipments on the way. (Evan Vucci / The Associated Press files)

There’s little doubt all these vaccines will eventually end up being used. But the slow pace of the rollout is a problem. It’s not just a "hiccup," as Pallister calls it. Every week that goes by where a third or more of the province’s supply is sitting in freezers is another week of delay that could have prevented death or serious illness.

Delaying vaccines also slows down reopening plans. The more the province drags its feet on immunizations, the longer businesses and not-for-profits remain closed, or can operate only with restrictions. Many are facing insolvency.

The province should be administering at least 5,000 to 6,000 doses a day by now between its supersite clinics, focused immunization teams and pop-up clinics. It should be doing even more next week when doctors’ offices and pharmacies are expected to start providing injections. Manitoba needs to dole out an average of 6,149 doses a day to meet its latest goal of 172,182 jabs over the next 28 days. Right now the province is doing about a third of that.

It's still working with a squirt gun.

Meanwhile, case numbers and the test-positivity rate are starting to creep up again.

"We’re in a bit of race," chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday. "We’re in a race to get Manitobans vaccinated."

Unfortunately, it feels more like a walkathon than a race right now.

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.