The only thing more frustrating than the Pallister government’s slow immunization rollout are the bogus responses officials provide when asked why the province scales down operations on weekends and continues to hoard vaccine supply.
The province has, for weeks, maintained an inventory of between 80,000 and 140,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, depending on when new shipments arrive. Some of that is delivered to third-party providers, including First Nations, pharmacies and clinics. About half is held by the province for use by supersites, pop-up clinics and immunization teams (which service congregate-living settings). Those are the doses the province has daily control over.
The province had more than 46,000 doses in freezers Sunday, yet only administered 4,164 shots. They’ve been scaling down operations Sundays, and often Mondays, for weeks without any valid explanation.
On Monday, fewer than 6,500 shots were doled out, even with a record shipment of 66,850 doses of Pfizer vaccine that arrived Wednesday.
Provincial officials were asked several times this week why they reduce output on Sundays and keep such a large inventory.
"We administer more doses on some days than others, based on our staff scheduling, when people prefer to make appointments, and the precise timing of a federal delivery," a government spokesman told the Free Press in a written statement this week.
"However, if we receive enough vaccine that we reach capacity for doses on any given day, we would look to expand the number of doses booked on other days (like Sunday) where we currently administer fewer."
That’s not an answer, that’s gibberish. The scaled-down Sundays and Mondays have been planned days and weeks in advance (the schedules have been published in the government’s weekly technical briefing reports).
Nothing prevented the province from emptying its freezers this week prior to the Pfizer shipment. Instead, there were more than 37,000 doses in storage Tuesday.
Every person inoculated today will help disrupt the chain of transmission two weeks from now. That's especially important with cases rising again and patients piling up in hospitals.
The same thing happened last week. The province had an inventory of 34,988 doses on April 27, the day before it received a Pfizer shipment of 35,100 doses.
Officials were asked again Wednesday why so few doses are administered some days with so much supply on hand. The response: we could do more if we had more supply.
In other words, they don’t have an answer. They have decided that getting doses into arms as quickly as possible is not a priority. If it were, they would be doing everything possible to drive inventory down to zero, or close to zero, in the days leading up to confirmed shipments.
That could be done in a variety of ways, including through supersites and pop-up clinics. Unfortunately, there is still no urgency in their rollout.
Meanwhile, the decision last month to distribute all AstraZeneca vaccines to pharmacies and clinics continues to slow the process. It’s been over a month since Manitoba received a shipment of 54,600 doses of AstraZeneca (and 11,500 a week later). There are still more than 12,000 doses from those shipments in fridges. Vaccine hesitancy and narrow eligibility may have played a role in that. But this is an emergency; it’s up to the province to figure out how to get doses into arms as quickly as possible, not make excuses.
Manitobans deserve clear answers from government on the vaccine rollout and they’re not getting them. Instead of concise answers to reasonable questions, the public is getting political spin. Even the province's weekly technical briefing reports have been stripped of detailed projections, including daily immunization forecasts, inventory data and age-based vaccination targets.
Every person inoculated today will help disrupt the chain of transmission two weeks from now. That's especially important with cases rising again and patients piling up in hospitals. A conscious decision to keep tens of thousands of doses in storage instead of getting them into arms sooner will cost lives and prevent businesses from reopening sooner. If there are valid reasons for doing so, government has not provided them.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.