The Pallister government can boast all it wants about having the capacity to immunize all eligible Manitobans by the end of April. But if over half the province's vaccine inventory is still sitting in freezers, officials don't have much of a leg to stand on.
Manitoba continues to lag behind other provinces on its immunization program.
The province had received a combined 38,890 doses of the vaccine as of Wednesday and had injected 12,409 of them (32 per cent of its inventory). First Nations have still not reported the percentage of the 5,300 doses sent to northern communities. But if all those vaccines were injected, Manitoba has used only 46 per cent of its stock since the program began a month ago. Other provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, have used at least 70 per cent of their inventories.
Premier Brian Pallister claimed last week that if the province had enough vaccine from the federal government, it could immunize all Manitobans by the end of March. It was a bogus assertion his own bureaucrats couldn’t confirm.
This week, officials came up with an alternative claim: all Manitobans could be inoculated with two shots by the end of April if enough doses were available.
How they could do that when they can’t even keep up with existing federal supply is a mystery. The Pallister government should spend more time getting vaccines into Manitobans' arms today and less making baseless claims about what it "could" do.
Provincial officials say they have to keep some inventory on hand for sites such as the new "super clinic" at Brandon’s Keystone Centre, which opens Monday. What they don’t say is they’re also receiving shipments every week from the federal government that will supply most of that.
No one is arguing they shouldn’t set aside some inventory to meet shipment dates and future appointments. They have to ensure they have 4,100 doses for Brandon next week and 2,500-odd doses per week for personal-care homes over the next month.
However, much of that will be supplied by the thousands of doses coming in every week; 9,360 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (which increases to 16,380 per week next month) and 23,400 doses of Moderna over the next seven weeks.
If Manitoba was getting most of that into people’s arms, by using 70 to 80 per cent of its inventory on an ongoing basis, few would complain. But when they’re not even using half, it exposes weaknesses in their logistical planning. They’re either holding back too much because they’re being overly cautious (which could cost lives), or they don’t have the capacity to administer existing supply. Either way, every day a vial sits in a freezer unnecessarily is a day too many.
The poor vaccine planning is made worse by the woeful lack of information the province is providing to the public.
Despite a pledge to publish an online dashboard to provide Manitobans with up-to-date information on vaccine inventory, injections and other logistical details, officials have decided to reduce daily updates to three times a week.
Instead of more information, Manitobans are getting less.
Trying to get even basic updates on vaccines, such as when a shipment has arrived, has been a struggle.
On Sunday, the province reported it had received a total of 22,230 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Three days later, it said that number was 31,590. Did Manitoba get its weekly shipment of 9,360? It appears so. The math adds up. It’s exactly what the federal government said Manitoba would get this week.
But when asked repeatedly by the Free Press for confirmation, officials refused to answer. For some reason, they don’t want to talk about when shipments arrive. Manitoba is also scheduled to receive 7,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week. So far, no word on when — or if — it arrived.
The way the Pallister government sees it, the less Manitobans know about the rollout, the less insight they have into how deficient it is.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.