The Manitoba government has changed its plans for a vaccination "super site" for the North — just days after it was announced — after local officials argued the original proposal was unworkable.
Some northern residents will still get their COVID-19 shots at Thompson's airport, but "Vaxport" will be less super than originally planned, providing injections only to residents of fly-in communities.
Most northern residents will get their shots at the Thompson Community Recreation Centre, which is centrally located in the city of about 13,000.
"This makes much more sense logistically, and for the citizens of Thompson," Mayor Colleen Smook said Thursday after touring the airport site, which is located 10 kilometres from the city and isn't serviced by public transportation.
The airport is at $25 taxi ride away and has internet service that "isn't very good," Smook said.
"This makes much more sense logistically, and for the citizens of Thompson." – Mayor Colleen Smook
A provincial government spokesperson said there will be more information in the coming days.
"Launching Vaxport in Thompson is another milestone in our campaign to immunize Manitobans against COVID-19," the spokesperson said in an email.
Smook said she heard Premier Brian Pallister's announcement about the site — which he dubbed "Vaxport" — on Jan. 6 and immediately had concerns.
"We weren't given a heads-up, there was no consultation; we were all in the dark," she said. "I thought, 'Frick — that's not going to work.'"
She said she sent two pages of concerns to the province about the location and asked if anyone making the decisions had even checked it out in person to ensure it was suitable.
That happened Thursday.
"They saw how unrealistic for their big plan it was going to be," she said.
The entourage — which included Smook, regional and senior provincial health officials and others — also visited the rec centre.
The city-owned facility — closed under provincial code-red pandemic restrictions — is on a public-transit route, has plenty of space and has been used for flu-vaccination campaigns.
"We just did this year's flu shots above the normal capacity," she said.
The province should have consulted with people on the ground in Thompson before rolling out its plans but in the end, they acted on them, the mayor said.
"Kudos to the province for listening to us," she said.
"They saw how unrealistic for their big plan it was going to be." – Mayor Colleen Smook
Smook, 68, learned the vaccine will arrive during the last week of January, and health-care workers and the most vulnerable will be at the front of the appointment line.
She said they need just 48 hours to have the community centre set up, adding 60 per cent of the city's residents are Indigenous, and 70 per cent of them don't have a means of transportation.
Northern Manitoba is dealing with an exponential rise in cases —139 were reported Thursday, surpassing the entire Winnipeg region's 75. The Northern Health region had 1,297 active COVID-19 cases compared to 820 in Winnipeg.
"We've had a terrible outbreak at Lynn Lake and it's trickled down here," Smook said. The town, located 230 kilometres northwest of Thompson, has just 482 residents but there are 144 active cases.
The northern surge in COVID-19 cases prompted four NDP MLAs from the region to write to Health Minister Heather Stefanson saying there's an urgent need for vaccinations and information.
"We need to have a clear plan on how and where they're going to do the vaccine rollout," Danielle Adams (Thompson) said.
"We need to have a clear plan on how and where they're going to do the vaccine rollout." – Danielle Adams
The letter, signed by Adams, The Pas-Kameesak MLA Amanda Lathlin, Flin Flon MLA Tom Lindsay and Keewatinook MLA Ian Bushie commended Indigenous leadership for quickly getting the Moderna vaccine into the arms of those who need it most.
"It is concerning that the provincial government has not been able to do the same thing, despite having months to plan," said the letter, dated Tuesday.
Adams said the Vaxport plan seems "reactionary" and poorly executed with the provincial government not consulting first with local officials.
"A lot of things have involved them saying how they're planning on doing something but not telling the community or the media how," she said. "It leads me to believe they don't actually have a plan for that."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the issue is "typical" of the government and illustrates why "the entire pandemic has been a fiasco."
"The premier makes things up without telling anybody, so you have a last-minute change," he said.
"There's no concept of doing the work to make sure the vaccine gets to people. This should've have been planned months ago. It's unbelievable."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.