Manitoba health officials have entered a new phase in their race against the H1N1 virus, but they still don't know when they'll reach the finish line.
As the province threw open the doors to H1N1 vaccination clinics for all Manitobans for the first time Wednesday, officials weren't sure whether the immunization program could be completed on time. They'll only be able to assess that after the fact.
Dr. Joel Kettner, the province's chief medical officer of health, said he's unsure what stage the illness is at in Manitoba, but suspects it's somewhere around the mid-point of this second wave of H1N1. The first wave occurred this past spring and early summer, killing seven Manitobans.
Kettner also could not say how long flu vaccination clinics are likely to continue. "We're looking at this on a week-to-week basis, if not a day-to-day basis," he told a news conference.
David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, said it could take until January to complete a national immunization program if all Canadians wanted an H1N1 flu shot.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority had originally planned to conduct its mass vaccination clinics through Dec. 4. But that was before vaccine supplier GlaxoSmithKline started experiencing production blips.
Manitoba health officials have been frustrated by the production delays, which have caused them to temporarily close vaccination clinics.
"The idea of giving a vaccine in January for a pandemic influenza that we're in the middle, if we are (in the middle of it)... is not really our best idea of how this vaccine should be used," Kettner said.
He said there is still a great benefit to receiving the flu shot -- both for individual protection as well as to protect others. "But with every passing day that benefit diminishes," he added.
Manitoba officials knew it was time to remove restrictions on who could get the flu shot as lineups at clinics vanished in recent days. Previous weeks have seen vaccinations limited to priority groups such as aboriginal people, pregnant women, children, the homeless and people with underlying medical conditions.
Opening up the clinics -- even though there are still an untold number of folks from the priority groups yet to be vaccinated -- was important to keeping the facilities running at optimum efficiency.
Winnipeg's 12 clinics have become more and more efficient as the weeks have passed, said Milton Sussman, the WRHA's chief operating officer. They can now poke 15,000 arms or more in a single day, if there is enough vaccine -- and clients -- at all locations, he said.
"We've been able to move people through the lines much more quickly and process the people through the clinics in a more timely way," he said.
Opening clinics this Saturday will depend on vaccine supplies, he said. Going into Wednesday, the city had about 32,000 doses left, and another shipment is not expected before next week.
Just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, there were no lineups at the clinic at Grant Park Shopping Centre.
Jas Bharaj said he found out on the Free Press online edition that he could now receive the flu shot, was one of the early birds. "It's for the best," he said of getting immunized.
City clinics can vaccinate 16,000 people a day
379,000 -- number of doses of vaccine the province had received as of Monday.
245,000 -- number of Manitobans who had been immunized by Tuesday night.
147,565 -- number of people vaccinated at WRHA immunization clinics by Wednesday afternoon.
15,000 to 16,000 -- the number of vaccinations that can be done now in one day at the city's 12 clinics with proper vaccine supplies and if people come out in sufficient numbers at all clinics.
14,000-plus -- the highest number of vaccinations that have been done in a single day in Winnipeg so far.
30,704 -- the most that have been vaccinated in a single day provincewide.
32,000 -- number of doses of H1N1 vaccine on hand in Winnipeg going into Wednesday.
10-14 -- number of days it takes once you get the shot before it provides full protection from H1N1.