Manitoba is restarting its COVID-19 vaccination efforts, following a five-day break — and amidst questions about the delay.

The planned pause over Christmas was in the name of efficiency, a provincial government spokesman says, offering no other explanation on the reasoning behind the decision not to vaccinate anyone Dec. 24-28.

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Manitoba is restarting its COVID-19 vaccination efforts, following a five-day break — and amidst questions about the delay.

The planned pause over Christmas was in the name of efficiency, a provincial government spokesman says, offering no other explanation on the reasoning behind the decision not to vaccinate anyone Dec. 24-28.

On Monday, the province announced nine more pandemic deaths and 107 new cases of the novel coronavirus.

As part of Manitoba's vaccination plan, the most recent immunization clinic happened Dec. 23; the next was set to start Dec. 29.

Asked whether staffing levels or limited vaccine supply contributed to the decision, the provincial spokesman sent an emailed statement, saying the program is running "very smoothly" and is being expanded as more doses become available.

"The planning and co-ordination of the vaccine clinics has been carefully done to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the program," the statement reads.

Canada surpasses 15,000 COVID-19 deaths

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A healthcare worker talks with people as they wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. A total of 15,001 Canadians have now died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began earlier this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
A healthcare worker talks with people as they wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. A total of 15,001 Canadians have now died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began earlier this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Posted: 5:33 PM Dec. 28, 2020

Canada surpassed 15,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, and at least one infectious disease expert says the somber milestone should be a wake-up call to anyone who thinks the dangers of the disease are overhyped.

Quebec reported 37 deaths Monday, pushing Canada past 15,000. Health officials in that province said seven deaths took place in the last 24 hours, 27 occurred between Dec. 21 and Dec. 26, and three were from unspecified dates.

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Other provinces, including Ontario, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, also put immunization on hold or scaled it back for Christmas (with some continuing to offer vaccines on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day). The Ontario government faced criticism this week over its decision to reduce vaccinations because of staff shortages.

Such distribution problems don't appear to be happening in Manitoba, a local epidemiologist says; a Manitoba ethicist, however, questions whether any delay in immunization was the right move.

"I think that it was a mistake, honestly. Ethically speaking, I think that there's a real need to get these vaccines out as quickly as possible," Neil McArthur, director of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said Monday.

"We're talking about lives here."

The provincial government should be more transparent about how it is making decisions on vaccine roll-out, and who it is consulting, McArthur said, including how officials decided to hold back the required second doses of the vaccine instead of allowing as many Manitobans as possible to receive a first dose.

For maximum effectiveness, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine currently being distributed in Manitoba is given in an initial dose, and followed by a booster shot roughly three weeks later. However, early research is showing the first dose can be effective on its own — and governments have faced questions about whether to start vaccinating more people with one dose and rely on suppliers to meet demand for the second round.

Eight of the nine Manitoba deaths announced Monday were personal care home residents. McArthur said the climbing death toll within long-term care homes should be reason enough to vaccinate without delay.

"I think they should be getting the first dose out as quickly as possible to those front–line workers, to those people in long–term care, people working in long–term care ‐ and I just don't see any excuse to wait." – Neil McArthur, director of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics

"I think they should be getting the first dose out as quickly as possible to those front-line workers, to those people in long-term care, people working in long-term care — and I just don't see any excuse to wait," he said.

From an epidemiology perspective, however, the vaccine isn't a one-step solution, and a short delay on immunization likely won't make much of a difference, said Winnipeg researcher Cynthia Carr.

"We just need to be patient and trust that there is an approach and a plan. It sounds like there is to me," the epidemiologist said.

"There's still a lot of work for all of us ahead, and let's try and be supportive of our system and trust that they know what they're doing."

The decision to pause vaccinations over the holidays was likely made because of lower staffing levels, Carr said, but she cautioned Manitoba shouldn't be compared to Ontario when it comes to dose distribution.

"We don't have hundreds of thousands of doses. It's not like there's many that we have to get through and get through quickly." – Researcher Cynthia Carr

"We don't have hundreds of thousands of doses. It's not like there's many that we have to get through and get through quickly," she said.

So far, 2,177 Manitobans have been immunized against COVID-19 — all of them front-line health-care workers — with one person reporting an adverse side-effect.

The province hasn't revealed how many total vaccine doses are expected to arrive in Manitoba in the near future. However, 5,000 appointment slots are still open for eligible health-care workers who want to receive the vaccine during first- and second-dose immunization clinics in January, at the downtown RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg.

It's too early to tell how the Christmas holidays have impacted COVID-19 rates in Manitoba. The province didn't start seeing a post-Thanksgiving spike until about two weeks later.

As of Monday, test positivity rates for the novel coronavirus, provincewide and in Winnipeg, increased slightly to 12.6 per cent and 12.4 per cent, respectively.

After putting its COVID-19 announcements on hold over Christmas, the province announced Sunday that 28 people had died of the virus between Dec. 24 and Dec. 27.

In addition, on Dec. 27, a man in his 60s became Manitoba's first federal prisoner to die of COVID-19, the Correctional Service of Canada announced Monday. The man's name isn't being released. He is one of three federal prisoners to die after being diagnosed with the virus.

As of Monday morning, there were 250 active COVID-19 patients hospitalized, and a further 93 who were no longer infectious but continue to require care. Thirty-seven COVID-19 patients were in intensive care — 33 of them with active cases of the virus.

Of the 107 new cases announced Monday, 43 were in Winnipeg, 24 in Southern Health, 18 in Northern Health, 12 in Prairie Mountain, and 10 in Interlake-Eastern.

The fatalities announced include: a man in his 60s from the Winnipeg region; a woman in her 70s and a woman in her 90s at Holy Family Home (Winnipeg); a man and woman in their 80s at Poseidon Care Centre (Winnipeg); a woman in her 70s at Convalescent Home of Winnipeg; a woman in her 90s at Kin Place (Oakbank); a woman in her 90s at Bethania Mennonite care home (Winnipeg); and a man in his 90s at Grandview care home (Grandview).

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
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Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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