Urgent reset needed for vaccination program

There are times when realizing you’re not alone provides no comfort whatsoever.

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This article was published 07/04/2021 (545 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are times when realizing you’re not alone provides no comfort whatsoever.

Current lamentations over Manitoba’s painfully slow — and, some argue, woefully inadequate — rollout of COVID-19 vaccines certainly qualifies as one such time. A report in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail outlined in detail how several provinces are experiencing severe difficulties in shifting their vaccination programs into sufficiently high gear to meet ramped-up dosage distribution from the federal government as concerns mount over the spread of virulent new strains of the COVID-19 virus.

There is nothing resembling reassurance to be drawn from this.

Various problems have plagued Winnipeg's vaccination supersite at the convention centre. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

As in Manitoba, officials in provinces such as Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have for months laid blame — rightfully, in many instances — for their lower-than-pledged distribution of vaccines on the federal government’s insufficient and unreliable deliveries of doses. But with vaccine supplies finally increasing sharply in the last few weeks, several provinces — Manitoba among them — have failed to accelerate their vaccination rates and suddenly have compounding thousands of doses languishing in freezers rather than being injected into arms.

With variants of concern becoming exponentially more prevalent, leading some jurisdictions to reimpose harsh but necessary lockdown restrictions, fears are rising over the inability of lagging vaccination programs to pre-empt a catastrophic full-blown third wave.

“On the present course, the pandemic will blight the spring and shorten the summer for millions of Canadians,” said David Naylor, co-chair of the federal government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

Despite these mounting concerns, government and health officials in Manitoba — which this week remained tied for second-last (at 58 per cent) in terms of percentage of received doses administered — remain resolute in their insistence the plan here is working.

With consecutive stories in the Free Press outlining the frustrations of underworked vaccination staff at the RBC Convention Centre supersite, the former head of Manitoba’s emergency management system calling for military intervention to support the province’s faltering vaccination effort, and Manitoba’s stockpile of unadministered doses topping 155,000 as of Tuesday, one can’t help wondering if such insistences carry faint echoes of former health minister Cameron Friesen’s ill-considered “The people in charge have got this” comment last November in response to local physicians’ warning of a looming second wave.

Vaccination sites should be going seven days a week, says former Emergency Measures Organization executive director Chuck Sanderson. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“Vaccination sites should be going seven days a week, full-tilt, and none of this business of lazy Sundays,” said former Emergency Measures Organization executive director Chuck Sanderson. “It’s just incomprehensible to think of the way they’ve rolled this out.”

In neighbouring Saskatchewan, which leads the country in percentage of doses administered (at 78 per cent), the provincial government has opted for a more dispersed vaccine-delivery strategy that includes drive-thru and walk-in vaccination sites. Despite having received 87,000 fewer vaccine doses from the federal government, as of early this week it had administered 11,000 more shots than Manitoba.

Adjustments on the fly have been the hallmark of every government’s response to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, but the results to date of this province’s plan suggest the moment has arrived for a rapid and deliberate reset. “Urgent” might be an outworn descriptive at this stage of the pandemic, but it most assuredly applies here.

Encouragement might be found in the otherwise tax-cut-focused provincial budget’s inclusion of a $1.2-billion commitment to the COVID-19 response. The $100 million specifically apportioned to the vaccine program should be unleashed — accompanied by a much-improved and accelerated plan — with something significantly more than all due haste.

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