When you’re stranded because your vehicle broke down and a friend who is an experienced mechanic wants to help, it would be foolish to decline. Offers of expert assistance should be valued.
Manitoba’s pharmacists are vaccination veterans who have the expertise and geography — their outlets abound throughout the province — to help administer COVID-19 vaccines. So far, their offer to help has been greeted by public silence from the province.
Help is certainly needed. Manitoba remains among the slowest in Canada to get the vaccines from freezers to arms.
The Pallister government regularly calls on the federal government to speed up vaccine delivery, a puzzling demand since figures show this province is slow in moving the vaccine it already has. As of Monday, Manitoba had used only 35 per cent of its available vaccine supply, compared to a national average of 59 per cent.
Almost two-thirds of Manitoba’s allotment of COVID-19 vaccines is in storage and not in bloodstreams. On a matter as important as curtailing a pandemic, why is Manitoba so slow out of the vaccination starting gate?
It’s a question media asks repeatedly, and a question government officials deflect just as often. How many immunizers are needed? They’re not telling. How many have been recruited so far? Not telling. Will the government accept the offer of help from the province’s pharmacists? Not telling.
It is known the province is just now in the process of hiring a provincial COVID-19 immunization director, a disappointingly tardy initiative since it has been clear since before the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was announced two months ago that such a director would be needed. Premier Brian Pallister insisted Tuesday that the vaccine-management work is being done even as the hiring effort continues, but Manitoba’s belated search for an immunization director is akin to interviewing directors of sandbag placement when the flood waters are already rushing in.
Optimists among us might hope the province, despite its reluctance to reveal details, has a thorough plan for vaccinating Manitobans quickly and safely, but such a hope would defy established odds. This is the same government that, in the consensus of the public, botched the rollout of COVID-19 testing sites and contact tracing.
Some might be inclined forgive the province its flubs, since a pandemic is an unprecedented challenge and officials are learning as they go. But Manitoba doesn’t have to rely on greenhorns in the critical matter of vaccinating the public.
The staff at pharmacies have successfully co-ordinated flu and booster shots with a network that includes online booking systems. It makes sense to accept the assistance of pharmacy professionals rather than to staff vaccination sites with nurses and other health aides who are sorely needed in hospitals, home care and nursing homes.
Yes, it’s true one of the two available vaccines requires unusual storage at minus-70C, but pharmacies can reportedly accommodate that need. One chain has already purchased freezers capable of such extreme temperatures, at a cost of about $20,000 each.
Pharmacies, including those in large retail stores, are widespread and would be more convenient for many Manitobans than the current vaccination "super site" location at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg and the similar sites in Brandon and (opening in February) Thompson. The more accessible the vaccine is, the greater the chances of reaching the ultimate goal of innoculating a sufficiently high percentage of Manitobans to achieve herd immunity.
The potential enlistment of pharmacists warrants immediate and respectful consideration. If the government has a better plan, Manitobans haven’t yet heard about it.