While Premier Brian Pallister boasted about the province’s readiness to vaccinate Manitobans quickly, his officials couldn’t say Wednesday how many immunizers have been hired or how many are needed.

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While Premier Brian Pallister boasted about the province’s readiness to vaccinate Manitobans quickly, his officials couldn’t say Wednesday how many immunizers have been hired or how many are needed.

It was also learned that Manitoba is just now in the process of hiring a provincial COVID-19 immunization director.

Pallister announced that the first personal care home residents in Manitoba will begin receiving the virus vaccine Jan. 11.

Seven long-term care homes in Winnipeg, Brandon, Carman, Selkirk and The Pas will be the first stops for immunization teams who are expected to vaccinate 1,157 residents next week.

The province has developed a plan to provide a first dose of vaccine to all of Manitoba's estimated 9,834 personal care home residents within 28 days of Monday's launch — as long as Ottawa delivers a sufficient vaccine supply.

"I'm pleased to tell you today that by mid-March, every single eligible PCH resident will have received both doses and the fullest protection we can provide them with against this deadly virus," the premier said Wednesday.

While Manitoba has lagged behind all other provinces in the number of vaccinations delivered compared to available supplies, Pallister said as of Wednesday morning the province was fifth in that regard.

Despite having only adminstered 21 per cent of available COVID-19 vaccinations, Premier Brian Pallister says the limiting factor is how quickly the province gets the vaccine from Ottawa. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Despite having only adminstered 21 per cent of available COVID-19 vaccinations, Premier Brian Pallister says the limiting factor is how quickly the province gets the vaccine from Ottawa. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The premier said he didn't appreciate criticism by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other federal officials that provinces have been slow to immunize Canadians.

He said given sufficient vaccine supplies, Manitoba has the capacity to immunize "100 per cent of those who want it... by the end of March."

He estimated the province won't receive supplies to vaccinate more than 10 per cent of its population by that date.

"Our limiting factor isn't our capabilities here," Pallister said. "Our limiting factor is how quickly we can get the vaccine (from Ottawa)."

Following up on the launch of its super coronavirus vaccination site at the RBC Convention Centre on Monday, the province will open a second super site in Brandon on Jan. 18 and a third large centre in Thompson in early February.

Dr. Joss Reimer, a medical officer of health and a member of the province's COVID-19 vaccine task force, said the province could perform more immunizations if it had a greater supply of vaccines.

But she wouldn't say if Manitoba could vaccinate everyone by the end of March if it had unlimited supplies.

"It's very difficult for me to speculate on the exact numbers that we would be able to do in what time frame," Reimer said, when told about the premier's comments. "What I can say is that at this point the main limitation to the numbers that we're doing is the vaccine supply."

Reimer said the province has the ability to scale up its vaccination efforts.

But for a second day in a row, Manitoba officials could not say how many people will need to be hired to carry out its COVID-19 immunization program. Neither could they say how many had been recruited so far, except that it was "in the hundreds."

On Wednesday, Reimer said officials had not yet decided whether major vaccination sites such as the convention centre would eventually open up around the clock. She said the super site will extend its hours, including operating on weekends.

Reimer said the provincial immunization director the government is in the process of hiring will assist with long-term COVID-19 vaccination planning.

"This immunization campaign is going to be going on for many months in the future," she told reporters.

Currently, staff involved in the immunization effort have been pulled from various areas of the Health Department and other parts of government. The government wants to expand the team while freeing up workers to return to their old jobs, Reimer said.

At a news conference on Dec. 9, Pallister said planning for the massive vaccination effort had been "underway, literally, for months," while the province's chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said recruitment had started to find people to carry out vaccinations.

However, the province still hasn't provided details about the level of staffing required and how close it is to meeting its needs.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew dismissed the premier's assertion that the province could vaccinate every Manitoban who wants it by the end of March.

"The fact that they're posting for a job (provincial immunization director) now — even though health officials were telling us in September that there is a 50 per cent chance of a vaccine being ready for January — tells you that this government was ignoring public health advice yet again," he said. "Now, it's Manitobans who wanted to get a vaccine right away who are the ones paying the price."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said there are vaccine doses in Manitoba right now that could be going into people's arms, but aren't.

"It's not happening because this government isn't organized," he said, noting Wednesday's job posting for a provincial immunization director "should have been advertised and filled in June or July."

The rollout is also being delayed while the government tries to turn the pandemic into a business opportunity, he charged.

Late on Dec. 23, the province posted a request for proposals for "COVID-19 immunizers and post-immunization observers service" on the Merx website, where government contracts are tendered. "The overall objective is to create a pool of prequalified contractors to supply personnel to perform COVID-19 immunization administration services," the RFP says.

"This government has decided that this is a for-profit thing that has to be done," Lamont said. "Instead of making sure we're ready and engaging our public health care system, Pallister has actually chosen to delay the rollout of vaccinations in Manitoba so that private companies can make a profit off of it."

To date, Manitoba has received a total of 22,230 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which includes approximately 7,000 doses delivered Tuesday. As of Wednesday morning, 5,165 people had been immunized with the Pfizer vaccine. There are currently about 17,000 doses of Pfizer in the province, which will be used for the remainder of this week’s immunizations (5,250) as well as the 6,650 appointments for first- and second-dose immunizations that will be scheduled at the super site next week.

On Tuesday, 871 people received the COVID-19 vaccine at the convention centre.

Next week, the following personal care homes will receive teams to provide on-site immunizations: Boyne Lodge, Carman (Southern Health), Charleswood Care Centre (Winnipeg Regional Health Authority), Hillcrest Place, Brandon (Prairie Mountain Health), Oakview Place (WRHA), St. Paul’s Residence, The Pas (Northern Health), Tudor House, Selkirk (Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority) and Tuxedo Villa (WRHA).

— with files from Katie May

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

   Read full biography