Manitoba’s standing among the provinces in the race to immunize residents against COVID-19 jumped from second-last to middle of the pack Thursday.

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Manitoba’s standing among the provinces in the race to immunize residents against COVID-19 jumped from second-last to middle of the pack Thursday.

On a per capita basis, and using the best available data Thursday, Manitoba placed fourth in the country, having administered 21,622 shots per 100,000 people since Dec. 16.

Saskatchewan is at the top of the list, at 25,117 doses per 100,000.

The provincial median is 21,328 per 100,000.

Former Manitoba chief public health officer Dr. Joel Kettner said successful mass-immunization campaigns provide "focused protection" for people at the greatest risk, use existing immunization infrastructure, have strong uptake and often rely on local expertise to guide decision-making.

"Knowing the medical and social circumstances is best done at a local level and, ideally, collaborative between public health and primary care at the local level," Kettner said.

"You’ve got to give local public health, local primary care the ability to find where the focused protection needs to happen and the ability to encourage the people who most need the vaccine to get it."

Saskatchewan has been successful in quickly using its vaccine supplies and vaccinating high-risk residents. The province has injected 79.8 per cent of its inventory into arms, best in the country. It has also immunized 56.8 per cent (150,801 doses) of its population over the age of 60 with a first dose and delivered 12,703 shots to people living in long-term care facilities.

By comparison, 31.1 per cent of Manitobans age 60 or older have received a first dose (104,378 first doses) and more than 19,800 doses have been given to people in long-term care homes and congregate-living settings.

Meanwhile, at last count, Manitoba had used only 58.25 per cent of its inventory, last among the provinces.

Provincial immunization information has been beset by data-entry delays, but on Thursday the province added more than 8,000 doses that were administered on or before Tuesday.

Manitoba’s slower rollout is due, in part, to the province rationing its vaccine inventory so its supersite clinics can operate through the week even if deliveries do not arrive on schedule from the federal government.

Officials overseeing the rollout have also said the lower percentage of doses administered in comparison to other provinces is due to smaller distribution channels — such as focused immunization teams and new clinics in rural communities and on First Nations — capping the number of doses that can be performed daily.

Saskatchewan, which has so far received 108,000 fewer doses than Manitoba, is operating 116 provincially run clinics, including eight first-come, first-served drive-thru locations that run late into the evenings.

By contrast, Manitoba currently has five supersite facilities and 22 pop-up clinics operating this week, with another 293 doctors and pharmacists offering a total of 54,600 COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Kettner, who was Manitoba’s top doctor during the H1N1 mass-immunization campaign, said that during a health emergency response authorities should stick to typical health-care delivery systems that people are most familiar with.

"As much as possible, vaccines should be given in the same way they’re always given and mostly that means in doctors’ offices or pharmacy centres," he said.

In Manitoba, nearly 52,000 doses of Moderna vaccine have also been allocated to Manitoba First Nations for their immunization campaigns and to vaccinate all adults living on reserves.

Age eligibility criteria for First Nations people is also 20 years younger than the general population.

According to the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team, as of Wednesday 67 per cent of the province’s active COVID-19 cases, 64 per cent of the intensive-care unit admissions and 49 per cent of hospital admissions were First Nations. At last update, 13,594 First Nations people have received a single dose of vaccine.

"There’s some good innovative things happening here," Kettner said. "We’re talking about a bit of a long game here. I think that if it takes a little bit longer to get this (vaccine) to places where the highest-risk patients are identified, and that they are encouraged to get the vaccine, it’s a bit like the tortoise and the hare."

As of this week, the Saskatchewan government began allocating 14 per cent of its provincial supply to Indigenous communities.

Ontario is performing marginally better than Manitoba, having used 65 per cent of its inventory, while Alberta has delivered just 200 to 300 fewer doses per capita and has used 68 per cent of its inventory.

Like Manitoba, British Columbia is in the third phase of its immunization rollout and just recently opened up immunizations to people 70 and older. It has also prioritized Indigenous people over the age of 18 for early access.

— With files from Michael Pereira and Katie May

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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