A clinic quickly co-ordinated at a Winkler business to distribute COVID-19 vaccine shots was a rousing success — and it won’t be the last.
C.W. Wiebe Medical Centre administrator Jim Neufeld said the province’s vaccine implementation team reached out several weeks ago with 110 doses available "kind of short notice." It asked if Neufeld would be able to co-ordinate a vaccine clinic set up within a large business (similar to one that had taken place in the Brandon Maple Leaf Foods plant previously).
"There was the ask of: did they think that that was something we could do in Winkler?" he said.
On June 3, the shots were made available to employees and family members of employees at two businesses under the same ownership group, which employs around 700-800 people in Winkler.
"The long and the short of it is every appointment was filled, and we were able to vaccinate 110 people," Neufeld said Thursday.
The owner of the businesses declined to comment, citing concerns with potential pushback from some in the community.
Only about 28 per cent of Winkler’s adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine placing it only ahead the Rural Municipality of Stanley, which is at 15 per cent of adults, according to provincial data.
Neufeld said he hasn’t witnessed any criticism around the project, personally.
"We know that there’s certainly some pushback here as far as individuals getting vaccinated, and local businesses don’t need to take that on, there’s no real benefit there for them to do that," he said.
"We have nothing but fabulous things to say about the effort that they put in to doing this."
A similar clinic is being planned next week at Central Station Community Centre, a Winkler non-profit that manages affordable housing units in the city, with the goal of vaccinating 70 people currently living in those units.
The C.W. Wiebe Medical Centre has been contacted by a handful of other businesses interested in setting up similar clinics for their employees, Neufeld said. The project will continue on a weekly basis as long as there is supply and businesses able to organize and recruit employees.
"Having somebody doing the communication to people kind of closer to them, it seemingly worked out better than us just putting it out in the public saying, generally speaking, ‘We have vaccines, you can come here,’" Neufeld said.
"I think it was a real benefit both ways. They seemed to be able to attract this number of people with their communication channels better than, perhaps, the general message the public gets."
Winkler Mayor Martin Harder has long-championed the idea of homegrown vaccine rollout programming, including campaigns featuring local doctors and vaccine rewards from local businesses.
Harder said Thursday it wasn’t likely Winkler organizations would apply for the grant initiative announced by the province last week that will fund vaccine uptake programming targeted at communities with low vaccination rates.
"We have done our own thing, we still do our own thing in terms of (vaccination)," the mayor said.
President of the Winkler Chamber of Commerce, Keith Gislason, said he was "pretty excited" to hear of the clinic’s success.
"We’re a pretty interesting community, where we kind of tend to work together already," he said. "Not everybody participates sometimes, but this is a good example of what we would normally want to do."
Gislason said the local chamber is encouraging its members to get in on the program, if their business qualifies.
"We have a lot of members that have been hit really hard by all the restrictions and all the closures, and the whole debate around vaccines," he said. "We are encouraging anything we can do to get everything to open up so those businesses can function again."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.