Opinion

There is a reason Manitoba has fully immunized more people per capita against COVID-19 than most provinces: it has more doses of the vaccine.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

There is a reason Manitoba has fully immunized more people per capita against COVID-19 than most provinces: it has more doses of the vaccine.

Manitoba has been boasting for weeks it ranks second among the provinces for providing both required shots of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. Manitoba had fully immunized 1,536 per 100,000 people as of Feb. 17, behind only P.E.I.

While that may have something to do with Manitoba’s more conservative planning approach to administering second doses, it’s also because it has been shipped more vaccine doses per capita than any province except P.E.I.

Manitoba had received 61,800 doses from the federal government since December (as of Feb. 11, the most recent data available from Ottawa). That works out to 4,480 doses per 100,000.

P.E.I. had received 7,517 per 100,000; Newfoundland was third, at 4,021 per 100,000; New Brunswick was last, at 3,433 per 100,000.

Manitoba has secured more doses of the Moderna vaccine to account for its high proportion of Indigenous people living in remote locations where the vaccine is easier to ship. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Manitoba has secured more doses of the Moderna vaccine to account for its high proportion of Indigenous people living in remote locations where the vaccine is easier to ship. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Manitoba’s allotment has been 18 per cent above the national average.

One reason may be because Manitoba has secured more doses of the Moderna vaccine to account for its high proportion of Indigenous people. (Moderna is easier to transport to remote locations.)

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended adult Indigenous people in remote communities should be prioritized for vaccinations because they are at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.

Manitoba had received more than its share of Moderna (1,653 doses per 100,000, compared with the national average of 1,356). However, it also received a greater portion of Pfizer than any province except P.E.I.

The federal government says allocations may not match each province’s per capita allotment because of packaging dimensions. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, is shipped in trays of 975 doses and cannot be split up.

Federal officials say the numbers should equalize in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, Manitoba has been given a head start.

It had received 15,275, or 25 per cent, more doses than neighbour Saskatchewan, another province with a high proportion of Indigenous people. (Manitoba’s population is roughly 17 per cent larger than Saskatchewan’s.)

However, there are still delays shipping vaccines to First Nations in Manitoba. The province received its latest shipment of Moderna on Feb. 6. Some First Nations did not receive the product until 10 days later, which delayed second doses beyond the manufacturer’s prescribed 28-day period.

The province is also failing to prioritize the elderly.

Manitoba has received 15,275 doses, 25 per cent more than Saskatchewan. (Mary Altaffer / The Associated Press)

Manitoba has received 15,275 doses, 25 per cent more than Saskatchewan. (Mary Altaffer / The Associated Press)

People over 70 have, by far, the highest risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. One in five people over 70 who contract the disease die from it. However, less than a quarter of the 57,702 vaccines administered to date in Manitoba have gone into the arms of people over 70.

That should be expected to some degree. NACI recommended front-line health-care workers, most of whom are under 70, should be vaccinated first.

It also recommended people over 80 from the general population should be part of the first stage.

Manitoba is not following that recommendation. Instead, the province has started immunizing community services workers in congregate settings, such as shelters and child and family services facilities. That contradicts the evidence those at highest risk of a severe outcome should be immunized first.

A provincial spokesperson said Manitoba has different stages than NACI, and the two can’t be perfectly compared. That’s a cop-out.

The province announced Wednesday people over age 95 can make appointments next week to be vaccinated. That should have started weeks ago. Every week of delay could mean more deaths.

The province had the doses to start immunizing the elderly much earlier. It chose not to. It could cost lives.

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.

   Read full biography