Manitoba’s COVID-19 immunization program hit a milestone Wednesday: more than a half-million vaccine doses have been delivered to the province since December.
Unfortunately, 157,521 of those remain in storage fridges or freezers.
By national standards, Manitoba’s immunization program has faltered. The province has administered a smaller portion of doses received than most jurisdictions in Canada. At least 100,000 doses of that Manitoba stockpile should already be in the arms of residents.
There are a number of reasons why that hasn’t happened.
Poor supply management decisions were made early on that resulted in bottlenecks in the system.
Pop-up clinics and focused immunization teams were created to ensure people in rural areas and congregate settings could be immunized. However, the province rationed doses through those channels, even though it had the supply to do more. Those outlets also scaled down operations on weekends; some took Sundays off altogether.
Of the 521,910 doses received, 84,100 were AstraZeneca vaccines, which were distributed to pharmacies and medical clinics.
There were no timelines established to determine when doses would be administered.
Some supply was given to clinics that didn’t have the capacity to dole out more than a handful a day. Others could have done more, but ran out of supply. Many couldn’t get rid of their inventory because the province waited until this week to expand eligibility to include all people over 40 age. Prior to Monday, there were still more than 56,000 AstraZeneca doses sitting in fridges.
In stockClick to Expand
COVID-19 vaccine doses received in Manitoba, but not administered:
April 10: 136,395
April 11: 130,325
April 12: 124,827
April 13: 118,318
April 14: 156,249
April 15: 178,234
April 16: 168,980
April 17: 158,295
April 18: 150,672
April 19: 144,884
April 20: 135,833
April 21: 157,521
— Manitoba government vaccine online dashboard
Pharmacies and medical clinics have been driving down inventory since the changes. It’s one of the reasons the province reported nearly 14,000 more doses were administered Tuesday. Still, all AstraZeneca supply should have been in arms two weeks ago.
Even super sites have not administered doses as quickly as they could have. Vaccine task force officials acknowledged that last week, when they announced a planned reduction of inventory amounts closer to zero.
Manitoba's wrong turns can’t be straightened out overnight. Vaccine shipments already delivered to third parties are spoken for and can only be administered as fast as providers can fit them into their schedules.
The key now is to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
The goods news is Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine deliveries are expected to double in May and June, according to the federal government. That will more than offset the late and reduced deliveries by Moderna.
Manitoba will have enough from Pfizer alone to administer more than 10,000 doses a day, beginning the first week of May.
So far, that's not reflected in the province’s immunization schedule. According to projections released Wednesday, it is planning to administer far fewer than 10,000/day the first week of May. It appears it is still planning for a slow distribution.
The province has already missed its targets to immunize Manitobans ages 60 to 69. Manitoba was supposed to have first shots in 70 per cent of people in that age group by April 15.
Nearly a week later, the province is still nowhere near that target, having only reached 46 per cent as of Wednesday. Government is so far off the mark, it stopped publishing age-based targets in its weekly vaccination reports.
Manitoba would not have averted a third wave with a speedier vaccine rollout, but it would have softened the blow.
Every individual that is immunized helps disrupt the transmission chain. Scientists are still unsure how well COVID-19 vaccines prevent or reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, but there is emerging evidence it has some impact.
If Manitoba had 100,000 more adults immunized today (which it could have under current supply) it would have protected more of the population and helped reduce the spread of the virus.
By not doing so, Manitoba is in a weaker position to fight a third wave.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.