Manitoba’s farm communities will eventually be getting access to COVID-19 vaccines closer to home, although it’s not yet clear how close or when those plans might launch.
Why it matters: Some rural residents are eligible for vaccination against COVID-19, but with only two sites operational, that could mean a long drive.
During a technical briefing Jan. 20, provincial staff noted plans for vaccination pop-up sites, vaccine hubs and additional super sites, to be added to current super sites in Brandon and Winnipeg and the incoming site in Thompson.
Hubs would help reduce travel time and could be scaled up or down depending on population served, provincial staff said, while pop-up clinics would be oriented around remote or Northern communities and would focus on going in once and vaccinating those populations whole scale.
Doctor’s offices and pharmacies will also have a role to play in the roll out, provincial staff said.
In early January, both doctors and pharmacists urged the province to take up such an option.
That distribution model would take advantage of the trained staff already leveraged for flu shots and other vaccine campaigns, while also allowing people to be vaccinated by their regular care providers, staff noted. At the same time, however, that option would hinge on a suitable, easily stored vaccine supply.
The province envisions, “deliveries in many different locations through different mechanisms depending on the vaccine that’s available,” Dr. Joss Reimer of the province’s COVID-19 Vaccination Implementation Task Force said. “Right now, obviously, our biggest issue is vaccine scarcity, but we are planning to be ready for when that vaccine is available.”
As of the week starting Jan. 11, the province had received over twice as much of the Pfizer vaccine—stored at -70C—as the more easily stored Moderna vaccine—which has a storage guideline of -20C.
Pfizer supply delays have, likewise, thrown a logistical wrench in the works.
The delays are expected to take out well over half of Manitoba’s expected Pfizer doses during the next four weeks. On Jan. 20, provincial staff said Manitoba would not be getting any of the 9,360 doses expected during the last week of January. That already reduced schedule projected the province would receive 29,250 of the originally projected 58,500 doses between the week starting Jan. 25 and the week starting Feb. 15, the province added.
Two days later, the province announced yet another drop. Doses expected in the first week of February dropped again from 5,850 to 2,340, and the province now says that an expected 32,760 doses will fall prey to the delays between the week starting Jan. 25 and the week starting Feb. 15.
Sites in both Brandon and Winnipeg have stopped taking appointments, the province announced, and current vaccine supply is being reviewed to see if appointments will have to be cancelled.
Reimer said the province is, “making sure that we’re doing the absolute best that we can in our current super sites with the doses that we have available.”
Pfizer has told the province to expect, “significant increases” in March, she added.
The province had hoped to have some details on the expanded roll out during the Jan. 20 technical briefing, but added that delayed vaccine shipments from Pfizer had thrown plans into disarray. Likewise, Reimer said the province had hoped to announce more details on expanding eligibility at super sites, plans that were likewise de-railed.
“We will be launching additional sites depending on the doses that come in,” she said. “So that’s in the works and the planning is ongoing.”
Road trips required
Accessibility is a concern in those areas where workers might currently be eligible for vaccination, but face the hurdle of travel time, provincial staff acknowledged, but maintained that plans were unrolling as quickly as possible given transport and storage challenges of the vaccine itself, as well as the chaos caused by a delay in Pfizer vaccine shipments.
Health care workers such as home care workers, emergency responders 45 years old or older and acute care workers currently make the cut for vaccination, but must travel to sites in Winnipeg or Brandon—which opened its doors Jan. 18. The Thompson site, meanwhile, is set to open Feb. 1.
Craig Howse, reeve for the R.M. of Grahamdale in the northern Interlake, said he had not personally heard any complaints from his constituents around vaccine accessibility.
“As of right now the plans, I don’t think it’s reached out to our area, our R.M. yet,” he said. “I’m not sure if there will be anything coming up.”
Several local home care workers have gotten vaccinated, he said, despite the 400-kilometre round trip to the nearest super site in Winnipeg.
Morris Olafson, reeve for the R.M. of Stanley, likewise says there have been “a few” people who have gotten vaccinated.
He is also unsure if his area—home to one of the major health centres of south central Manitoba as well as several other health care facilities in Winkler and Morden—might play host to an eventual vaccine site expansion.
He did, however, note provincial efforts to prioritize personal care homes.
Vaccination teams expected to visit 61 care homes, vaccinating about 90 per cent of residents, by Jan. 22. That list included 14 homes in the Interlake-Eastern Health District, seven homes in Southern Health and 19 homes in the Prairie Mountain Health District.
“I don’t see any great concern,” Olafson said. “Yeah, we want it faster, but at this point what are you going to push, if you don’t have enough to give out?