Monkeypox vaccine rollout suspended, province silent on cause Lack of appointments, information frustrating for at-risk Winnipeg man

Just hours after its rollout, the province’s monkeypox vaccine appointments were halted without explanation, leaving some at-risk Manitobans wondering when they’ll get immunized.

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Just hours after its rollout, the province’s monkeypox vaccine appointments were halted without explanation, leaving some at-risk Manitobans wondering when they’ll get immunized.

The provincial government had no answers Tuesday to explain why there aren’t any more appointments available, less than a day after eligibility expanded to receive the Imvamune vaccine.

A provincial spokesperson said only that more information is expected to be announced later this week. It’s unclear whether the sudden curtailment of the rollout is due to the limited supply of vaccine, a lack of personnel to administer it or something else.

The province did not provide an answer when asked how many appointments had been booked or how many doses were available. On Monday afternoon, the provincial government issued a tweet indicating all available vaccination slots were already booked.

“We expect to be able to make more available soon and an update will be shared at that time,” the tweet reads. The province announced Friday that eligibility would be expanded starting Monday to men who have sex with men and meet certain other criteria. Gay and bisexual men are at the highest risk for becoming infected with monkeypox, although there haven’t been any cases confirmed in Manitoba so far.

Will Franklin doesn’t use Twitter, so the Winnipegger was taken aback when he tried to book his appointment online at 7 a.m. Tuesday, hoping to avoid the first-day rush, and learned no slots were available at any of the three clinics supposed to be offering it. Thinking it was a glitch, Franklin phoned Health Links.

He spoke with someone who was unable to give him any information about supply, staffing levels, or when more appointments would open up. He asked if he could be notified when times became available, and was told he could not. Instead, he was advised to keep checking the website every 30 minutes.

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Will Franklin tried to book a monkeypox vaccine appointment first thing Tuesday morning, only to be told no more appointments were available.

“It was very frustrating,” Franklin said, adding he wondered why the province announced expanded eligibility if appointments were so limited. The online process was tedious to check availability at all three clinics, he said. Booking opened Monday morning for appointments at Klinic Community Health, Access Winnipeg West and Our Own Health Centre.

“I don’t think it’s set up right, but we’re just wanting to try to get the vaccination as soon as we can.”

As someone involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy in the 1980s, Franklin said getting the vaccine at the earliest opportunity is particularly important to him. He was offered a Hepatitis B vaccine back then, before it was widely available, but he took a pass.

“I thought, I’m a healthy guy, you know, I don’t need it. And here I ended up with Hep B and was flat on my back for six weeks,” he said. “That’s why I said, ‘OK, they’re offering this, why shouldn’t I get it and then not have to go through anything if (monkeypox is) more prevalent in the community here?”

“I thought, I’m a healthy guy, you know, I don’t need it. And here I ended up with Hep B and was flat on my back for six weeks.”– Will Franklin

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Tuesday a health centre informed his office there were only about 140 doses allocated to the Winnipeg area. He called on the government to implement a “well-oiled” vaccine and paid sick-day campaign that puts into action lessons learned from COVID-19 before monkeypox starts spreading here.

“We have a window of opportunity right now to act. If there isn’t enough vaccine, they also need to let people know that, but public health and the PC government need to be communicating with people about how to prevent it,” Lamont said.

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Tuesday a health centre informed his office there were only about 140 doses allocated to the Winnipeg area.

Monkeypox spreads primarily via direct physical contact and can cause rashes and flu-like symptoms. Canadian public health advice on how to avoid it involves avoiding close contact — including sex — with people who may have been exposed, maintaining good hygiene and staying home when sick.

The outbreak of monkeypox has been declared a global health threat by the World Health Organization. More than 950 cases have been recorded in Canada, including two cases in Saskatchewan in July and several hundred in Ontario.

Manitoba received supply of the vaccine in June, but the eligibility was restricted to people who’d been exposed to the virus. The province has repeatedly refused to answer questions about its supply, instead repeating its message that more information is coming soon.

katie.may@winnipegfreepress.com

Vials of empty monkeypox vaccines sit at a table at Seattle Central College in Seattle, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. (Daniel Kim/The Seattle Times via AP)
Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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