Overwhelming demand for walk-in COVID-19 vaccinations at the Leila Avenue supersite in Winnipeg left those at the end of the line fuming and critics calling for more vaccine options as the province grappled with news its supply of Pfizer shots would be slashed in early July.
Hundreds of Manitobans who joined the line outside the clinic in northwest Winnipeg Thursday morning were turned away as roughly 400 doses set aside for walk-ins were claimed by 8:40 a.m., 20 minutes before the clinic was to open.
Mary Stanger and her pregnant daughter got in the queue at about 7:40 a.m., hoping to get their second dose earlier than their scheduled appointments next week, but the pair left frustrated and without a shot.
"My daughter is having a scheduled C-section in two weeks and we wanted to make sure she was fully vaccinated before she goes into the hospital," Stanger said.
Stanger said her daughter, who received AstraZeneca months ago, was not picky about the type of vaccine she received, so long as she was vaccinated before giving birth. Later that morning, at the recommendation of their pharmacist, the pair went as walk-in clients to the urban Indigenous clinic in Winnipeg, where her daughter was quickly immunized.
"It was exactly the opposite experience to what we had at Leila," Stanger said, adding she decided not to get her second shot, to spare the clinic's resources. "I was just so grateful for them treating my daughter so well."
Stanger said the government needs to do improve its communication to the public about walk-in clinics, and state how many doses are available for first and second shots each day.
And with hundreds of people ready and willing to line up for shots instead of booking an appointment, at least two politicians called on the provincial government Thursday to expand walk-in clinics and run its mass vaccination sites overnight.
Mintu Sandhu, NDP MLA for the Maples, said those who waited for a second dose at Leila, but were turned away, want to get their lives back to normal as fast as possible and the province needs to help make that happen.
"We have the Moderna available, we have the Pfizer available. The problem right now is where is the staff and why are we not opening up 24/7?" – Mintu Sandhu, NDP MLA for the Maples
"We have the Moderna available, we have the Pfizer available. The problem right now is where is the staff and why are we not opening up 24/7?" Sandhu said. "We have people sitting here at 4:30 in the morning and we have to turn some away."
On Thursday, St. Norbert-Seine River city councillor Markus Chambers joined the call and said the province should increase the number of clinics available in the city and open a vaccination centre in the south end of Winnipeg.
"If we’re interested in getting everybody vaccinated and towards herd immunity, we’ve got to spread it out so areas that are under-served can have access as well, and certainly the south area is under-served," Chambers said.
A total of 3,979 Pfizer doses were given out during the walk-in availability at the Leila site, including 1,794 doses on Tuesday, 1,759 on Wednesday and just 426 Thursday. First doses were prioritized and three-quarters of recipients were vaccinated for the first time, the province said.
Pfizer vaccines are primarily offered on an appointment basis through the mass vaccination clinics. On Thursday, no Pfizer appointments were available to be booked in Winnipeg.
“If we’re interested in getting everybody vaccinated and towards herd immunity, we’ve got to spread it out so areas that are under–served can have access as well, and certainly the south area is under–served.” – St. Norbert–Seine River city councillor Markus Chambers
The scarcity of appointments was due in part to disruptions to Pfizer supply, the province said.
A confirmed delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that was set to arrive in Manitoba in the first week of July has been reduced to 32,800 from 83,100, and confirmed deliveries for the rest of the month have been withdrawn.
Johanu Botha, operations lead for Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, said the federal government delivered that news Wednesday evening.
While there are no confirmed deliveries beyond the week of July 5, Botha said the province should receive all the Pfizer doses it was previously allocated by the end of that month.
"The impacts, the disruption to the Pfizer supply chain, whether they're major or ultimately just minor, will only really be felt from the second week of July onwards," he said.
At this point, no appointments are being cancelled.
Botha said people who have appointments for Pfizer in early July may be offered a Moderna dose instead. Both the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the province have said the two mRNA vaccines are interchangeable.
Botha said the province is waiting for a confirmed delivery schedule from the federal government before deciding what will happen to Pfizer appointments beyond the first week of July. He added there is a good chance scheduled Pfizer appointments will be respected.
"If you are an adult, we strongly encourage you not to wait for an appointment weeks away if you're able to get one sooner, as many people can given the Moderna appointments and walk-ins that are or will be available," Botha said.
As a result of the supply disruption, youth aged 12 to 17 will not immediately be able to book a second dose appointment when they become eligible, Botha said. However, as Pfizer supply is confirmed, appointments will open up and be available before the end of July.
Over the next 10 days, Manitoba will receive more than 300,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine; the first shipment of doses will be used to facilitate walk-ins at all of province’s mass vaccination clinics except the RBC Convention Centre (beginning Sunday in Brandon, Dauphin and Morden and at 770 Leila Ave. in Winnipeg),, distributed to doctors and pharmacists, and added to the appointment booking system.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.