The former head of emergency management for the Manitoba government has slammed the province's COVID-19 vaccine rollout as "incomprehensible" and suggested it’s time for the military to be called in.
Chuck Sanderson, who served as executive director of the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization for 11 years and retired in 2013, said recent setbacks at the mass vaccination clinic at the RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg have exposed lapses in provincial planning.
"In a flood, when you got to the point where you couldn’t handle it with your own local resources, you get to tap into the federal resources — and my feeling is, it’s time," Sanderson told the Free Press on Tuesday.
"A whole rethink has to happen and that’s why I think that they should be asking for the assistance of the military. The military is fantastic at logistical issues such as this and they could help this province get back on track in a very short period of time."
After significant delays at the mass clinic following the introduction of an "accelerated vaccine delivery model" two weeks ago, Sanderson said it appears the campaign is vulnerable to staffing shortages because it relies on casual employees. He questioned why more mass vaccination clinics have not yet been opened in Winnipeg, adding it is not feasible to have a single clinic.
"Emergency management systems are simple, they’re robust, they’re not subject to failure with one anomaly. They’re built with all kinds of redundancies in them, so even if there was a glitch, you wouldn’t know it as the receiver because they’ve already got it built into the system," Sanderson said.
“In a flood, when you got to the point where you couldn’t handle it with your own local resources, you get to tap into the federal resources ‐ and my feeling is, it’s time” — Chuck Sanderson, former executive director of the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization
"Whatever they’ve built here is simply to save money and not lives, and that really is the issue. Somebody is trying to save some money at the expense of Manitobans."
As of Tuesday, the province had received 372,030 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and administered 216,718, about 58 per cent of its inventory.
The balance includes 54,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine that will be distributed to pharmacists and physicians and 26,500 that were sent to First Nations for use on reserves. Since January, a total of 51,800 doses have been directed to First Nations priorities.
The remaining doses, more than 68,000, are the responsibility of the Manitoba government to deliver.
"... I think that they should be asking for the assistance of the military. The military is fantastic at logistical issues such as this and they could help this province get back on track in a very short period of time.” — Chuck Sanderson
On Tuesday, the province’s chief public health officer said Manitoba will be hit by a third wave of COVID-19, the severity of which will depend on how many Manitobans can get a dose of the vaccine before the wave arrives.
However, Dr. Brent Roussin said it’s tough for him to say whether the vaccine rollout is moving fast enough to get ahead of exponential spread, as neighbouring provinces grapple with new COVID-19 waves driven by more infectious variants.
"If our numbers stay where they are for the next four to six weeks, we’re likely to have a significant number of Manitobans vaccinated by that time," Roussin said. "If we are going to see a steep increase in cases, like we’ve seen in other jurisdictions, we’re going to fall behind on that approach."
The province said its inventory of 68,000 doses will be used over the next nine days, despite it stating it has capacity to deliver 20,000 doses each day through its immunization network.
Officials with Manitoba's vaccine task force have said that while the province has the capacity, they have chosen to perform closer to 6,000 doses a day at clinics so people have more choices for appointments throughout the week and better customer service.
From an emergency management perspective, Sanderson said there is no reason for the province to ration vaccine supply over a week rather than giving a high volume of doses in a few days.
"You could slow things down when you have reached a certain critical mass, perhaps," Sanderson said. "But we are in a situation where the objective is to get as many jabs into people’s arms as possible, in the shortest amount of time possible.
Roussin defends perceived speed of vaccine rolloutClick to Expand
Posted: 6:16 PM Apr. 6, 2021
Manitoba's top doctor defended the province's COVID-19 vaccine rollout Tuesday, as he faced questions about its slow pace.
The vaccine task force had planned to be able to immunize 20,000 Manitobans per day by April 1 — and the province claims it would now be able to administer 20,918 daily, if Manitoba had enough doses.
"The best practice is to go with what science is saying and science is saying get those doses in people’s arms ASAP because of the variants that are coming along," Sanderson.
"Vaccination sites should be going seven days a week full-tilt and none of this business of lazy Sundays," he said. "It’s just incomprehensible to think of the way they’ve rolled this out."
At 71, James Schellenberg said if the province offered him a COVID-19 vaccine at 3 a.m. on a weeknight, you could bet he would drive there from his home in North Kildonan to get the shot.
Instead, he has decided to drive more than an hour to Morden to get his vaccine at the mass vaccination clinic this weekend.
He said it was the earliest appointment offered to him when he booked last Thursday.
"There doesn’t seem to be the urgency to get people vaccinated that I would hope there would be," the self-described mild-mannered Mennonite told the Free Press. "It’s a little frustrating to read that we could do 20,000 a day, and we haven’t seen anywhere near that. And then also to see blame being placed other places (and) to say we don’t have enough vaccine when we have thousands of doses that we haven’t inoculated yet.
"At my age, I feel some personal urgency to get vaccinated."
On Tuesday, Health Minister Heather Stefanson said she was satisfied with the rate of vaccination in Manitoba and is pleased with the work of the vaccine task force.
"Vaccination sites should be going seven days a week full-tilt and none of this business of lazy Sundays. It’s just incomprehensible to think of the way they’ve rolled this out." — Chuck Sanderson
"There have been challenges with supply as well from the federal government, so certainly we had a bit of setback for the next week on Moderna, and so those are the challenges that we face on a regular basis," Stefanson said. "We’ll continue to take those challenges to ensure that we can roll out this vaccine to Manitobans who need, want and deserve it."
Asked whether the federal government has offered military assistance to support the immunization campaign, Stefanson said federal support is always needed, then added the question would best be posed to Emergency Measures, which falls under the Infrastructure Department.
Stefanson said she is confident that doses on hand as of Tuesday will be administered within about a week.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he wants to see a greater sense of urgency from the province to get people vaccinated more quickly.
He said he believes that money is standing in the way of Manitoba being able to administer 20,000 doses a day as it has promised.
"It always is with this government. It’s always a question of spending money and… trying to rely on volunteers, trying to rely on part-time (staff), trying to rely on secondments. Just hire people. Let’s get this thing done. Let’s get it going," Kinew said.
— with files from Larry Kusch and Carol Sanders
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.