Manitoba vaccination firehose primed for action

The Pallister government’s “firehose” readiness plan to immunize Manitobans against COVID-19 will be put to the test this month, as the number of vaccines shipped to the province is about to triple.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/03/2021 (574 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Pallister government’s “firehose” readiness plan to immunize Manitobans against COVID-19 will be put to the test this month, as the number of vaccines shipped to the province is about to triple.

Premier Brian Pallister complained in January his government was fighting the COVID-19 pandemic with a “squirt gun,” because Ottawa wasn’t shipping enough vaccine doses.

With close to 200,000 expected to arrive over the next four weeks, Manitoba is about to get its chance to prove it can jab almost 7,000 people a day. Currently, it is only immunizing about 1,500-2,000 daily.

“Here in Manitoba, we’ve done enough preparatory work that we’re ready with a massive firehose to fight COVID,” Pallister said at the time. “Unfortunately, that’s not going to be possible because the federal government’s process of getting vaccines to Canada means instead of a firehose, we’re working with a bit of a squirt gun right now.”

Health-care worker Jenne Saunders prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province on March 1, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Much has changed since then. Shipments have increased dramatically (after they slowed to a trickle last month due to a global supply disruption) and two new vaccines — Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — have been approved for use in Canada.

The federal government says it plans to ship 54,880 doses this week to Manitoba from three manufacturers: Pfizer-BioNTech (16,380), Moderna (20,500), and AstraZeneca (18,000).

That’s expected to fall to 14,040 doses next week (Pfizer being the sole supplier), followed by a combined 82,720 doses the week of March 22 from Pfizer and Moderna.

Over the next four weeks, Manitoba is expecting 192,580 doses from three manufacturers. That’s far more than it had anticipated even a week ago, and about three times the number of recent weeks.

Manitoba had received 124,840 doses since mid-December, and administered 92,753, as of March 9.

So far, the number of immunizations the province has planned over the next 28 days falls well short of what it’s expecting in vaccines.

Of the 192,580 doses, only 118,205 are expected to be administered during that period, according to the province’s online COVID-19 dashboard. That will likely change as public health gets more information and adjusts its projections (the 28-day “total immunizations planned” is updated almost daily).

Still, it’s curious the province is planning to administer less than two-thirds of expected shipments over the next month. It’s especially odd, since it has maintained a large reserve of unused doses since the beginning of the rollout, rarely administering more than 75 per cent of total vaccines received.

If all 192,580 doses were administered over the next four weeks (6,878/day), it would still have a surplus of more than 30,000 doses by the end of March.

That’s a massive jump from where the province is now; over the past two days, only 3,025 doses were given out. With almost 55,000 doses on the way this week, that seems more like a squirt gun than a firehose.

The province says it has the capacity to administer nearly twice that amount (12,499/day). That’s the “firehose” Pallister was talking about. The province says it will have the capacity to administer 20,000/day by April 1.

That’s a massive jump from where the province is now; over the past two days, only 3,025 doses were given out. With almost 55,000 doses on the way this week, that seems more like a squirt gun than a firehose.

The low number of vaccines administered over the past two days is not because of uncertainty around future shipments. According to the province’s projected data, doses expected between now and April 12 are considered “confirmed.”

Also, with Manitoba’s decision last week to delay required second doses by up to four months, there’s less concern about ensuring second doses are available in the short-term, making more doses available sooner.

There’s no reason to believe the province won’t be able to keep up with supply. With four “super sites” now open and about 500 medical clinics and pharmacies signed up to provide jabs, the numbers should climb quickly.

It would be encouraging to start seeing some evidence of that. Manitobans are eager to see the firehose in action.

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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