Opinion

The good news is Manitoba administered its highest daily number of COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday. The bad news is it comes after two days of declining numbers. It raises questions about why the province still isn’t using up more of its vaccine supply.

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The good news is Manitoba administered its highest daily number of COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday. The bad news is it comes after two days of declining numbers. It raises questions about why the province still isn’t using up more of its vaccine supply.

After ramping up doses last week to more than 5,000 a day, the number of shots administered fell to 2,642 on Sunday and 3,262 on Monday. It wasn’t for a lack of supply. By the weekend, the province had received 193,760 doses from Ottawa, while administering only 146,993. While some of that inventory was earmarked for First Nations, or is being used by clinics and pharmacies, at least half is still sitting in freezers.

Meanwhile, the province received another shipment of nearly 40,000 doses on Wednesday, a delivery that was listed as a "confirmed" shipment two weeks ago.

As it stands, the province has received 233,540 doses and administered only 159,838, which includes doses administered by First Nations, pharmacies and clinics. Over the next week, the province expects another 40,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

The excuse that Manitoba doesn’t have enough supply to dole out more shots is wearing thinner by the week.

Keeping track

Total number of doses received: 233,540

Total number of doses administered: 159,838

Percentage of doses administered: 68 per cent

Total number of doses received: 233,540

Total number of doses administered: 159,838

Percentage of doses administered: 68 per cent

Number of daily doses administered March 16-23

March 16: 3,400

March 17: 4,794

March 18: 5,075

March 19: 5,455

March 20: 5,088

March 21: 2,642

March 22: 3,262

March 23: 6,938

Percentage of people by age who have received at least one dose (first doses)

Over 100: *100 per cent (550)

90-99: 80 per cent (9,534)

80-89: 44 per cent (18,780)

70-79: 7.5 per cent (7,175)

60-69: 9.7 per cent (15,016)

50-59: 10 per cent (17,028)

40-49: 7 per cent (11,952)

30-39: 5.8 per cent (11,311)

20-29: 3.9 per cent (7,498)

19 and under: N/A (246)

*small population sample size

— Source: Manitoba Government vaccine dashboard/Statistics Canada

The way provincial officials explained it during a technical briefing Wednesday is that about 50 per cent of its inventory has been allocated to First Nations, medical clinics and pharmacies. The other half is already booked, including through "supersites." If the province received no new supply, the latter would be depleted within five days.

The trouble with that argument is that the province is getting more supply, lots of it. Some of it has arrived (and wasn’t reflected in the technical briefing). More is coming in the next few days. The province is expecting close to 500,000 doses from Ottawa in confirmed deliveries over the next 10 weeks. That number will likely grow significantly once more is known about Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccine deliveries for the month of May.

The province is still telling the public what it can do – its theoretical capacity – instead of consistently administering more doses every day. Scaling down this past weekend showed an appalling lack of urgency in administering doses as quickly as possible.

Manitoba should be using a just-in-time delivery model by now. Vaccines should go out almost as quickly as they come in. There will be some delays in distributing the vaccine through the province’s focused immunization teams, pop-up clinics and in getting shipments to remote First Nations communities. Those are important modes of distribution that ensure vaccines get to those who can’t travel to supersites. The province was right to set them up. Unfortunately, it takes longer to get supply through those channels.

Still, those modes of distribution represent a minority share of the overall supply chain; the majority of vaccines are administered through supersites, which have the ability to draw down inventory much quicker.

Given the supply, the province should be administering at least 7,000 to 8,000 doses a day by now. It had the supply to start doing that a week ago.

There is some hope of a turnaround. The province administered 6,938 doses on Tuesday, the highest single-day number to date. If the system can keep that up, and increase it over the next few weeks, it will be able to draw down inventory quicker and get more needles into arms faster.

If it can’t, provincial officials will have to make some adjustments. They will have to find ways to speed up delivery through focused immunization teams and pop-up clinics, as well as medical clinics and pharmacies. The fact only 10,000 of the 18,000 doses provided to the latter have been administered is problematic. That inventory was distributed to sites well over a week ago.

It’s time to open the floodgates. The supply is there to do it.

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.

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