Nearly 27,000 Manitobans have reported missing and incomplete COVID-19 vaccination records, and as many as 12,000 fully immunized residents are still waiting for the province to fix the errors.
Retiree Wayne Vickers is one of thousands of Manitobans who learned their COVID-19 vaccination record was incomplete while trying to sign up to receive a secure immunization card.
"I’d like to have that card to know that I am fully vaccinated, if I decide to go to a show, or if I decide to go to the Bomber game or if there’s other restrictions placed on us, to at least show that I’ve got it," Vickers, 66, told the Free Press.
"Right now, at the moment, I don’t have anything and I’m stuck with all the restrictions."
Vickers said he received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at the RBC Convention Centre — one in April and one in late June — and tried unsuccessfully to register for his card on Saturday. His first dose in April was not recorded in the province’s database.
He opened a correction request via the province’s vaccine hotline the same day, and was told the issue would hopefully be resolved before the end of the week.
Vickers, who has been awaiting the day he can see his daughter in B.C., says he will stay close to home until he is able to prove he was vaccinated.
"Right now I’m sitting at home safe and sound, keeping away from everybody until I get that confirmation," he said.
A spokesperson for the Manitoba government said of the 12,000 open requests, some may be duplicates and others require more work to resolve, but noted the province aims to address all inquiries within seven days.
"While this goal was met in early July, numbers have again increased," the spokesperson said. "Work is underway to reduce the backlog and make all changes as soon as possible."
The government’s rollout of the cards has been plagued by data-entry issues, staffing challenges and supply-chain disruptions since the program was announced on June 8.
And as Manitoba gives fully vaccinated people additional privileges — including attending movie theatres and casinos and visiting care homes — one local ethicist said resources need to be marshalled quickly to fix the mistakes.
"They made a mess of it, not for the first time, and it’s their obligation to sort it out and to apologize to Manitobans who are not going to be able to take advantage in a timely way of the freedoms that are being extended to others, because of the government’s failure properly to implement its own policy," said University of Manitoba professor Arthur Schafer.
While Manitoba made the right decision to provide immunization cards, Schafer said the bungled rollout has undermined the program.
"The government of Manitoba has at least made an effort, but they botched it," he said.
For 74-year-old Adrian Jackson, the card is key to moving on from the pandemic after contracting COVID-19 at St. Boniface Hospital while being treated for a heart attack last fall.
After a long recovery, Jackson said he’s not rushing to get out of the house, but would like to take advantage of some opportunities offered to the fully vaccinated with friends.
"We went out Sunday, up Highway 59, to the casino there and they wouldn’t let us in because we had no proof," he said.
Like Vickers, Jackson took all the steps the province recommended in order to get the card, but has so far encountered red tape and complications while trying to retrieve and correct his records through the province’s multiple online portals.
"I am frustrated," he said. "No one has explained what is wrong with the system."
Michelle Porter, a professor and director of the Centre on Aging at the U of M, said the province’s reliance on digital platforms to access vaccine information has excluded people who are less skilled with computers or do not have access to the internet, smartphones or printers.
"It’s great for people that have it to seek out information, but it is forgetting the folks who don’t have devices, can’t afford internet, or live in a community where they can’t get it," Porter told the Free Press.
The late addition of a phone line to help Manitobans request immunization records or get them updated or corrected, was a mistake, Porter said. The province’s COVID-19 vaccine hotline began accepting calls related to vaccination records on July 7.
"Once they decided that they were going to make this card necessary for doing things like going to restaurants or casinos… then they needed to make sure that everybody who was fully vaccinated could get that proof of vaccination," she said.
In a statement to the Free Press, Central Services Minister Reg Helwer said the Progressive Conservative government takes the issue "very seriously and work is underway to make all changes as soon as possible."
According to the government, more than 475,000 valid requests for a Manitoba Immunization Card have been received, including 21,000 for digital cards only.
To date, more than 254,000 hard copies have been printed and mailed.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.