With Manitoba sitting on a COVID-19 vaccine stockpile twice the size of North Dakota's, more questions are being raised about a plan to send school staff from this province south of the border to get their shot.

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With Manitoba sitting on a COVID-19 vaccine stockpile twice the size of North Dakota's, more questions are being raised about a plan to send school staff from this province south of the border to get their shot.

On Friday, state officials reported having a supply of 56,494 doses. Manitoba had 109,445 unadministered doses on hand.

North Dakota health official, teachers, opposition baffled by premier's announcement

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MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, announce further restrictions during a press conference at the Manitoba Legislative building Monday afternoon. 210426 - Monday, April 26, 2021.						</p>
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, announce further restrictions during a press conference at the Manitoba Legislative building Monday afternoon. 210426 - Monday, April 26, 2021.

Posted: 7:00 PM Apr. 29, 2021

Manitoba teachers and a North Dakota health official were caught off guard Thursday when Premier Brian Pallister announced that school staff in this province would soon be able to cross the border to get vaccinated in North Dakota.

"This is a crazy, Band-Aid solution," said James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, Thursday. He said he learned about the plan to enable teachers and school staff to drive across the border into the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as he listened to premier's news conference Thursday.

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"You don't need to be a teacher to do the math on this one," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said. "Manitoba has almost twice as many doses of the COVID vaccine as North Dakota," he told reporters.

"Because of the Pallister government, apparently we're going to ask Manitoba teachers to go North Dakota to get their vaccination. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

During a news conference Thursday to announce summer job funding, Premier Brian Pallister mentioned a plan for school staff to get vaccinated in North Dakota. That state has generously shared some of its surplus vaccine with border-crossing Manitoba truckers at a pop-up site at the Drayton rest area off Interstate 29.

Pallister said the details of extending the initiative to Manitoba teachers hadn't been ironed out yet but more information would be available next week.

A spokesperson for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum confirmed Friday that a plan is in the works.

"Gov. Burgum and Premier Pallister spoke directly about this topic via phone midday Wednesday, and the governor was receptive to the concept," Mike Nowatzki said in an email to the Free Press.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum

MIKE MCCLEARY / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum

"Since then, our teams have been working out the details and logistics, and we hope to have more information to release next week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that an arrangement is far from a done deal.

"Conversations are still very much ongoing around waiving quarantine requirements," Trudeau said in response to a Free Press question during a Parliament Hill news briefing on a range of topics.

"That’s something that I think all Canadians have a little concern around."

“Conversations are still very much ongoing around waiving quarantine requirements. That’s something that I think all Canadians have a little concern around.” – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

He noted that the original intent of the North Dakota pilot was for workers already exempt from the Quarantine Act, such as truck drivers.

The prime minister also opted against exchanging barbs with Pallister and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who said they’ve turned to the U.S. because Ottawa has been much slower in procuring vaccines.

"We have been working incredibly hard across the country and around the world to deliver on vaccines," he said, noting shipments have been increasing steadily.

"We are in the full ramp-up phase."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

NDP Leader Wab Kinew

Kinew said it makes no sense to send teachers and other school staff on a vaccination mission across the border, given the large supply available here.

"The solution, the common sense, which should prevail, is simply to prioritize teachers in Manitoba for vaccines right here," the opposition leader and Fort Rouge MLA said.

So far, close to 400,000 Manitobans have been vaccinated, deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said Friday, as the province expanded eligibility while reporting 295 new infections.

The work in accessing vaccines for Manitoba school staff across the border is "ongoing," Atwal said, adding more of them will be able to get shots here as eligibility expands. But for the time being, they're not being identified as a priority group.

"The solution, the common sense, which should prevail, is simply to prioritize teachers in Manitoba for vaccines right here." – NDP Leader Wab Kinew

"We have a limited supply of vaccine," Atwal said. "We are prioritizing those at greatest risk. Obviously, if we had vaccine for everyone, we'd be giving out vaccine to everyone. We do have to create these priority groups."

Teachers and school staff can get vaccinated right now in Manitoba if they're age-eligible or they live or work in certain neighbourhoods identified as hot spots because of elevated case counts, he said.

"As more vaccine comes in, we're going to see the ability for everyone to access more vaccines as well," he said.

— With files from Dylan Robertson

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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