Right after booking a coveted COVID-19 vaccine appointment for her 95-year-old father, Linda-Beth Marr dialed up the folks at the local stretcher service.

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Right after booking a coveted COVID-19 vaccine appointment for her 95-year-old father, Linda-Beth Marr dialed up the folks at the local stretcher service.

Marr, keen to have her dad William vaccinated at the earliest opportunity, was surprised to learn Thursday she would need to hire a patient transport van to get her father to the mass vaccine clinic at the RBC Convention Centre.

"We have no option," Marr told the Free Press. "We want him to get the vaccine."

Her father is bedridden and unable to leave their Osborne Village condominium without support from the stretcher service, which will cost more than $1,000 for the four trips required to get both vaccine doses, Marr said, noting the expense will be covered by Veterans Affairs Canada.

Linda-Beth Marr sits next to her dad, 95-year-old dad William Marr, as he sleeps in his bed which is part of a shared living space with Linda and her husband.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Linda-Beth Marr sits next to her dad, 95-year-old dad William Marr, as he sleeps in his bed which is part of a shared living space with Linda and her husband.

"It’s going to be a very difficult day for him. He’s not going to understand where he’s going, he is incontinent and so there could be accidents along the way, and then there’s that financial burden, and it doesn’t affect him, but it will affect many others," she said.

On Wednesday, the provincial government began booking appointments for members of the general public who are at least 95 years old, and First Nations people 75 years of age or older.

Vaccinations are being offered only at one of the province’s three supersite clinics in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson.

Marr said the plan to have thousands of elderly people who live independently or with support in their own homes immunized at mass clinics will likely mean some will slip through the cracks.

“We have no option. We want him to get the vaccine.” — Linda-Beth Marr

She also worries about the strain it will put on patient-transport services.

"I think it was an oversight and a bad oversight on the government’s part," she said.

Immunization teams are scheduled to vaccinate about 4,800 people in some assisted-living facilities and seniors homes in the province next week.

How to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment

Members of the public who meet certain age criteria can book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Appointments can only be booked by phone (1-844-626-8222). Call centre hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. An automated system will ask initial screening questions to determine eligibility (have your Manitoba Health card ready).

Family members and caregivers can also call to book appointments for seniors, if necessary.

Members of the public who meet certain age criteria can book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Appointments can only be booked by phone (1-844-626-8222). Call centre hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. An automated system will ask initial screening questions to determine eligibility (have your Manitoba Health card ready).

Family members and caregivers can also call to book appointments for seniors, if necessary.

The average booking time is 12 minutes; the average wait time is 60 seconds. People can leave a number so they don’t have to wait on hold.

The province said there are 2,000 lines to handle calls, and more than 370 agents.

After initial screenings are done, you’ll be transferred to an agent who will go through a questionnaire and collect information, including contact details.

Both first-and-second-dose appointments will be made at the same time.

Text messages will be sent 48 hours and three hours before an appointment, and clients should have their consent forms filled out and ready before arriving at the clinic.

An online booking system is also being piloted, government officials said Wednesday, and should be ready to launch in April.

The province will allow one household member or a designated support person to accompany a senior to the vaccination clinic, if necessary.

Consent forms can be accessed here.

Complete elgibility criteria can be found here.

Marr questioned why the province hasn’t tasked the same teams to provide vaccinations to seniors who already receive home care, adding regional health authorities know which clients have the greatest needs.

"We just assumed that (the province) would be making provisions, we assumed all the way along that would be included in their plans," she said.

"It’s the seniors; we saw the fiasco with the long-term care homes, and now what kind of fiasco are we going to see with this? A lot of people don’t have someone advocating for them, so they’re just not going to go and get it."

A provincial spokesperson told the Free Press the vaccination rollout plan is "ever evolving" but there are no plans at this time to provide in-home immunization to people who may not be able to access the mass clinics.

"It would be the same approach as with any medical, dental appointment where the person, their caregiver, or family/friends will help to identify a process to get them to the location," the spokesperson said in a written statement, adding the province is working with health authorities and municipalities to ensure "older residents are made aware of the alternative transportation services available."

And for other family caregivers, though there is added stress of getting seniors to the clinics and some apprehension about venturing into public, there is also immense comfort in knowing loved ones will soon be vaccinated.

Victor Santa, right, 96, is set to get his first shot of the vaccine next week. His wife, Margaret, must wait.

SUPPLIED

Victor Santa, right, 96, is set to get his first shot of the vaccine next week. His wife, Margaret, must wait.

"This whole pandemic has been a struggle for us emotionally and physically," said Lori Nelson, who made an appointment for her 96-year-old father Victor Santa, and is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to do the same for her 86-year-old mom Margaret.

"It’s been extremely difficult," she said. "Dad would love to see more people. He’s always been a very sociable, very outgoing person and he can’t see or talk to anybody. And it’s really taken a toll on their mental health.

"I’m hoping this vaccine will brighten things up for them."

Nelson said her parents live semi-independently at a 55-plus complex in southwest Winnipeg, but are unable to drive, though she is happy to be chauffeuring them to appointments.

“It’s been extremely difficult. Dad would love to see more people. He’s always been a very sociable, very outgoing person and he can’t see or talk to anybody. And it’s really taken a toll on their mental health." — Lori Nelson on her 96-year-old father Victor Santa

Like Marr, Nelson said the process of booking the appointment for her dad was smooth, and the agent courteous, offering multiple appointment-time options.

"They were also very clear that I, as caregiver, could accompany him to the appointment, so there was no issue with that at all," she said. "The only issue that I have with the way that they’ve rolled out the vaccines is that my mom Margaret is 10 years younger than him and she cannot go.

"It means a double trip for me and when I talked to her this morning she’s a little bit disappointed she cannot go at the same time."

She said she’s trusting the province will make the clinic safe and sterile for her dad when he attends next week.

"I think it will be a relief for all of us," she said.

On Thursday, the province once again expanded eligibility criteria and offered appointments to people born on or before Dec. 31, 1926 and First Nations people born on or before Dec. 31, 1946.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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