Opinion

As more than 300,000 doses of Moderna vaccine are set to arrive in Manitoba over the next two weeks, the province should significantly expand walk-in clinics for COVID-19 immunizations. The plan unveiled Wednesday by the province's vaccine task force falls well short of that.

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This article was published 16/6/2021 (373 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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As more than 300,000 doses of Moderna vaccine are set to arrive in Manitoba over the next two weeks, the province should significantly expand walk-in clinics for COVID-19 immunizations. The plan unveiled Wednesday by the province's vaccine task force falls well short of that.

Manitoba is scheduled to receive a massive shipment of Moderna doses over the next two weeks: 105,300 doses by Sunday and another 204,100 shots next week. That’s in addition to the 87,800 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech expected each week in June.

Following higher-than-expected turnout at the Leila Avenue vaccination site this week for walk-ins, the province is expanding walk-up service at seven supersites next week. That’s good news. Trouble is, the vaccine task force only plans to add 10 per cent capacity at each location (the RBC Convention Centre supersite will not offer walk-in service). That’s nowhere near enough to meet the expected demand.

Manitoba is scheduled to receive 105,300 doses of Moderna by Sunday, another 204,100 shots next week, and 87,800 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech each week in June. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times )

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Manitoba is scheduled to receive 105,300 doses of Moderna by Sunday, another 204,100 shots next week, and 87,800 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech each week in June. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times )

Walk-ins are turning out to be a popular choice for Manitobans. For some, it’s more convenient to wait in line for an hour or two than to book an appointment that could be weeks away. There are ways to rebook appointments to get earlier spots when they become available online — but it's a convoluted process many find difficult to navigate (or don't even know about). For others, who may have difficulties making appointments or accessing traditional health-care services, getting a shot at a walk-in clinic is the only realistic option.

Whatever the case, people were showing up in droves at the Leila site this week, including some with second-dose appointments who hoped to get their shot sooner.

Unfortunately, the site ran out of supply and officials had to turn people away. In a pandemic, where getting as many vaccines into arms as quickly as possible is a matter of life and death, the province should never turn people away (especially if it has a large supply of vaccine sitting in cold storage, which it does).

The walk-in at Leila was originally advertised for first doses only, but when people showed up for second shots, public health officials didn’t turn them away (which was the right decision). However, they had limited supply and ran out of vaccine hours before they were scheduled to close on Tuesday and Wednesday.

People showed up in droves at the Leila Avenue vaccination site on Wednesday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

People showed up in droves at the Leila Avenue vaccination site on Wednesday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

This will be a recurring problem if the province doesn’t make adjustments.

In some ways, it's a good problem to have. People want to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. Demand is high. With the more virulent Delta strain in circulation, people are eager to get fully immunized. Getting the second shot could make the difference between landing in hospital or not.

The province’s job is to have the right supply in the right place at the right time so people who want a shot aren’t sent home. That will mean shifting inventory away from appointment-based service to more walk-ins (something many have been calling for since the beginning of the vaccine rollout).

A 10 per cent increase in supply at walk-ins next week won’t cut it. Many with July appointments will opt for a speedier shot at a walk-in. Members of the vaccine task force encouraged it during their news conference Wednesday. While that’s great advice, the province will have a logistical nightmare on its hands if it doesn't make a significant supply-shift to walk-ins.

Manitoba is getting at least 660,600 doses of combined Moderna and Pfizer vaccines over the next four weeks. That’s 165,150 doses a week (an average of 23,593 doses a day). It’s critical those doses, first and second, be administered as quickly as possible. If people are voting with their feet and showing up at walk-ins, it’s the province’s responsibility to accommodate those needs. Appointment-based bookings are important and will continue to be the main way vaccines are distributed.

But if some people prefer to wait in line to get immunized sooner, the province should be running walk-in clinics morning and night, seven days a week.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.