Manitoba is planning a temporary COVID-19 immunization clinic in Winnipeg as the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant takes hold in the city, but health officials wouldn't reveal when or where it would open, or who would get priority.
Johanu Botha, operations, planning and logistics lead for the vaccine task force, said Wednesday the province will move away from lower-volume distribution channels, such as rural and remote pop-up vaccination clinics, in order to deliver vaccines quickly in regions where the threat of the virus is growing.
As of Wednesday, 497 of the 560 COVID-19 variant cases in Manitoba were detected in Winnipeg.
"We will be putting doses in arms at a higher clip," Botha said. "The smaller pipes, the pop-ups will always remain a tool in our tool kit, we’re not going to see them disappear, but I do anticipate us seeing fewer of them, and the ones that we do see will be larger in nature and probably serve areas where we’re seeing faster spread, like the city."
“The smaller pipes, the pop–ups will always remain a tool in our tool kit, we’re not going to see them disappear, but I do anticipate us seeing fewer of them, and the ones that we do see will be larger in nature and probably serve areas where we’re seeing faster spread, like the city.” – Johanu Botha, operations, planning and logistics lead
However, details about the new immunization site and other larger pop-up clinics were scant, except that the Winnipeg site could open as early as next week.
Provincial officials also couldn't say Wednesday who will get priority access to the shots.
"We have seen in Wave 2, and are starting to see in Wave 3 as well, that certain parts of the province, certain geographic areas are at higher risk of transmission generally, and at higher risk of the severe outcomes," said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the COVID-19 vaccine task force.
Reimer said a provincial team of epidemiologists, physicians and logistics experts is analyzing where COVID-19 transmission is occurring and among which populations, in order to develop a plan to vaccinate people outside of the current age eligibility criteria.
Reimer said the plan should be released soon.
"We haven’t finalized the details yet of exactly who and where we want to be targeting vaccine," Reimer said. "We’ve asked the team to look beyond the age-based approach..., if there's specific populations, if there’s specific worker types that we need to be including urgently based on what we’re seeing in Wave 3."
Botha said as many as 8,800 doses of Moderna could be made available next week through new larger pop-up clinics, including the one in Winnipeg.
The province wants to ensure that "some of that Moderna can go through bigger pipes," Botha said. "If not a supersite, then larger, bigger pop-ups in urban locations such as Winnipeg."
The doses that will be used at the temporary clinic in Winnipeg will come from a delayed shipment of 28,400 Moderna doses which will arrive later this week. Approximately a dozen communities saw their pop-up immunization clinics in rural Manitoba cancelled this week due to the delay.
Botha said about 9,000 doses from the shipment will go towards the campaign to immunize First Nations adults living on reserve. The rest — approximately 19,400 — will be used for the provincial immunization campaign.
Botha said that if public health officials determine more doses are needed to be administered at a faster rate, supply could also be diverted from focused immunization teams and other pop-up clinics to areas of concern.
"We want to... ensure that there aren’t the kind of severe outcomes that overwhelm our health system," he said.
Botha said the mass immunization clinic at the Winnipeg Soccer Federation complex on Leila Avenue, announced last week, will open May 7 — not any sooner.
"Leila is a site that’s set up for between 4,000 at the low end, 6,000 at the high end, of vaccine per day. We’re not seeing that amount of Moderna come in," Botha said.
The province also announced Wednesday another mass vaccination clinic will open in Steinbach, at 294 Lumber Ave., in May, based on vaccine supplies.
“We want to... ensure that there aren’t the kind of severe outcomes that overwhelm our health system.” – Johanu Botha
Details on additional vaccination clinics in the Interlake-Eastern, Prairie Mountain Health and Northern Health regions will be shared in the coming days, the province said.
Botha said the province has been informed that the size of Pfizer-BioNTech shipments will likely increase in early May.
As of Wednesday, the province continues to plan to give all adult Manitobans (assuming a 70 per cent uptake) a single shot of COVID-19 vaccine by mid-June at the latest.
General age eligibility criteria for vaccination was also expanded Wednesday to include people 59 or older, and First Nation people 39 or older.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.