Manitoba may be fighting the COVID-19 pandemic with a "squirt gun" when it comes to rolling out its immunization plan, but it’s not Ottawa’s fault.
Premier Brian Pallister blamed the federal government this week for falling behind other countries like Denmark and Britain in procuring COVID-19 vaccines.
He claimed Wednesday the only thing holding the province back from getting more shots into Manitobans’ arms was a lack of supply from Ottawa.
"Here in Manitoba, we’ve done enough preparatory work that we’re ready with a massive firehose to fight COVID," Pallister said during a news conference. "Unfortunately, that’s not going to be possible because the federal government’s process of getting vaccines to Canada means instead of a firehose, we’re working with a bit of a squirt gun right now."
Three weeks after launching its immunization program, the Pallister government’s logistical planning is still appallingly slow. They haven’t even hired a director of immunization yet.
The squirt-gun approach was Manitoba’s doing. Three weeks after launching its immunization program, the Pallister government’s logistical planning is still appallingly slow. They haven’t even hired a director of immunization yet.
The province opened its new "super clinic" at RBC Convention Centre Monday. But public health officials are still only immunizing a few hundred people a day (871 shots were given Tuesday). People living in personal care homes are dying almost daily from COVID-19, yet immunization in nursing homes won’t begin until next week.
A vaccination clinic planned for Brandon won’t open until Jan. 18.
Despite that, Pallister blames Ottawa.
"We haven’t got enough water to fill the firehose," Pallister said. "We got enough water for a pop gun here, for a squirt gun right now."
If by water the premier means vaccines, Manitoba has plenty of it. The problem is the provincial government isn’t getting it into arms fast enough. There's a lack of urgency.
According to federal data, Manitoba received 19,975 doses from Ottawa as of Dec. 31 (12,675 from Pfizer/BioNTech and 7,300 from Moderna). The province said Tuesday Manitoba received another shipment of 7,000 Pfizer/BioNTech doses Jan. 5, for a total of 26,975. As of Wednesday morning, only 5,165 people were immunized, or 19 per cent of supply.
The province says it plans to immunize 5,250 more people this week and 6,650 next week at the convention centre. Another 1,157 people are expected to be inoculated in personal care homes next week. That means 18,222 should be immunized by mid-January, or about half the available supply (the province is expecting another shipment of 9,360 doses next week).
Pallister said Manitoba got a slow start with its immunization program because the province has a disproportionate number of remote communities. He said it’s more difficult to deliver vaccines to northern communities than it is for other provinces. It’s a ridiculous claim; Manitoba isn’t the only province with remote communities.
The Pallister government had months to prepare for an immunization rollout. Instead, provincial officials were caught flat–footed, just as they were when the pandemic’s second wave hit in the fall.
Besides, the delays in Winnipeg had nothing to do with that.
The Pallister government had months to prepare for an immunization rollout. Instead, provincial officials were caught flat-footed, just as they were when the pandemic’s second wave hit in the fall. Planning is not one of this government’s strong suits.
The fact Manitoba has only inoculated 5,165 people so far is not the federal government’s fault; not when there are thousands of doses sitting in a freezer.
That may change over time, depending on supply. Manitoba will eventually scale up its immunization rollout as public health officials work out the kinks. There’s every reason to believe the super clinic in Winnipeg will be able to jab 10,000 people per week, or more.
Pallister’s excuses and deflections are baseless. He undermines his credibility when he makes ludicrous claims like he did Wednesday: that the province has the capacity to immunize every Manitoban by the end of March if Ottawa had the supply. (Manitoba would have to immunize more than 15,000 people a day to reach that target).
Manitobans could do with less political rhetoric and finger pointing from their premier. It doesn't help anyone.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.