Opinion

Manitoba has a small window of opportunity to get as many high-risk people immunized as possible before more contagious variants of concern take footholds in the province.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

Manitoba has a small window of opportunity to get as many high-risk people immunized as possible before more contagious variants of concern take footholds in the province.

Despite a massive influx of COVID-19 vaccine shipments in recent weeks, government is squandering that chance.

Tens of thousands of doses of the life-saving vaccine continue to pile up in freezers, with no plan to significantly draw down supply. Manitoba’s vaccine inventory has more than doubled over the past two weeks.

Doses received but not administered:

Feb. 14 — 14,535

Feb. 21 — 23,384

Feb. 28 — 33,012

March 7 — 35,112

March 14 — 54,110

March 21 — 60,073

March 28 — 79,658

April 3 — 139,623

April 6 — 155,312

Feb. 14 — 14,535

Feb. 21 — 23,384

Feb. 28 — 33,012

March 7 — 35,112

March 14 — 54,110

March 21 — 60,073

March 28 — 79,658

April 3 — 139,623

April 6 — 155,312

Change in daily cumulative doses administered Daily (includes First Nations):

March 27 — 5,385

March 28 — 5,026

March 29 — 4,733

March 30 — 5,282

March 31 — 7,466

*April 1-2 — 13,078

*April 3-4 — 5,981

April 5 — 6,630

* — province did not publish updates April 2 and 4

— source: Manitoba government online vaccine dashboard

The province has received 372,030 doses but administered only 216,718 (58 per cent). The rest are either in storage or have been shipped to third parties, including medical clinics, pharmacies, and First Nations.

Despite repeated pledges by Manitoba officials to "drive down inventory," the surplus continues to grow.

In mid-March, the difference between the number of doses received and administered exceeded 50,000. Two weeks ago, it reached 79,658. After receiving shipments totalling more than 123,000 doses last week (which were scheduled more than two weeks ago), the inventory ballooned to 155,312, as of Tuesday.

With close to 50,000 scheduled to arrive this week and another 66,000 next week, that surplus is expected to remain largely unchanged until at least the end of the month. The province is projecting to administer 50,000-60,000 doses per week between now and April 25.

Manitoba is tied with Nova Scotia for last among the provinces in getting doses into arms.

Saskatchewan, which ranks first, has received 87,000 fewer doses than Manitoba but administered almost 11,000 more shots (even though its population is more spread out than Manitoba).

Saskatchewan is using drive-thru immunization clinics to help expedite its rollout. Some provinces have set up wait lists that allow people who have signed up to get immunized when surplus doses are available at the end of each day.

Manitoba is doing neither. It is lumbering along with a sluggish system failing to keep up with supply.

Pharmacies are clamouring for more doses. Doctors Manitoba says physicians are willing and able to help out by administering Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in their clinics. So far, the province has only distributed limited amounts of the AstraZeneca vaccine to clinics and pharmacies.

The clock is ticking.

The province could soon be overwhelmed by more contagious variants (look to British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario). Yet, there is still no local sense of urgency to get needles into arms.

Johanu Botha, right, co-lead of Manitoba's Vaccine committee, and Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the committee. (John Woods / Canadian Press files)

Johanu Botha, right, co-lead of Manitoba's Vaccine committee, and Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the committee. (John Woods / Canadian Press files)

Manitoba has done a good job of limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus in recent months. It continues to have the lowest number of daily cases of COVID-19 per capita in the country west of the Maritimes.

The province reported an average of 78 new cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days, far below Ontario (231), Saskatchewan (248), Alberta (244), and B.C. (240).

Even after Manitoba eased restrictions in early March, for the third time this year, the province’s test positivity rate has remained relatively stable at about four to five per cent (up from three per cent on March 5). The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital, which has fallen during most of 2021, has also stabilized.

Government deserves credit for its prudent, gradual reopening plan. It has served the province well, but with variants of concern on the rise, that may not last.

What’s missing is an aggressive, urgent vaccination plan.

Provincial officials continue to play down the size of the growing inventory and claim they’re getting vaccines into arms almost as quickly as doses arrive.

It is a patently untrue statement.

If the province were administering shots that quickly, its inventory would not have soared from 35,112 to 155,312 doses over the past month. The province would have increased daily immunizations to keep pace with incoming supply.

It didn’t. It’s a clear case of incompetence.

The longer it takes the province to ramp up its vaccine rollout, the greater the risk of severe illness and death. These delays are reckless, putting Manitobans lives in jeopardy.

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