The province has nearly all of the equipment required to inoculate every Manitoban for COVID-19, all it needs is for the federal government to approve the vaccine and give Manitoba its fair share, Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday.
For the second time this week, the premier said during a press conference that he's concerned the federal government will distribute the vaccine to provinces on a per capita basis, while holding back the supply earmarked for First Nations. Manitoba has the highest per capita percentage of Indigenous people in Canada — many of whom live off reserves — and the premier said he's concerned the province will get shortchanged.
"Manitobans who do not live in northern communities are least likely to get a vaccine," he said.
"We need the federal government to recognize the unique needs here. We want all our citizens to have a fair chance to get the vaccine."
Pallister outlined preparations for the rollout of vaccines when they become available.
The province has procured all of the necessary supplies to administer two vaccine doses to every Manitoban, including a special freezer, syringes and enough personal protective equipment for staff, he said.
Some of the vaccines likely to be approved for use in Canada will need specialized storage and other requirements. As a result, the province plans to provide injections to more people at a small number of locations, especially in the early stages of the campaign, said Pallister.
The first freezer able to safely store one of the likely COVID-19 vaccines at extremely low temperatures has been delivered and installed, and four more are on the way, the premier said. In total, the five units will be able to store close to one million doses. He said the province has purchased 20 portable ultra-cold freezers.
It's the federal government's per capita vaccine allocation plan that threatens to put "Manitoba at the back of the line," the premier said.
"It's unacceptable. The vaccine is coming, and when it comes, Manitobans shouldn't be waiting the longest to get it."
Meanwhile, the province’s top doctor said Manitobans should expect a limited and rationed rollout of the vaccines early in the new year following approval by Health Canada.
"We don’t even have a vaccine that’s approved yet," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Thursday. He anticipates most Manitobans may not be offered a vaccine until midway through 2021.
"Of course things change, but in the early parts of this campaign, we’re going to have limited quantities, so we’re going to have to focus on those who are high risk, those who are high risk (of) exposure, or to spread to those who are at high risk. Ultimately, we’ll be working at the vaccine campaign probably well into a year moving forward," Roussin said.
Pallister's comments about the province ending up at the back of the line for the vaccine because of the allocation to First Nations threatens to divide Manitobans at a time when they need to be united, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said during a media scrum.
"Why is he coming out twice in one week to try and divide people and do this fearmongering about Indigenous people and the vaccines? It's to hide the fact that he doesn't have a plan for vaccinations in Manitoba," alleged Kinew.
"What's the plan? What did he announce today — he's got a freezer? Did he get it on Black Friday?" the NDP leader quipped.
"For Mr. Pallister to make this argument that in some way this Manitoban should be worried about that Manitoban getting a vaccine ignores the whole premise of a provincewide vaccination campaign, which is this: we are all going to get vaccinated," Kinew said.
"When my neighbour gets a vaccine I shouldn't be jealous that my neighbour got a vaccine before I did. I should be happy that my neighbour did his part to slow down community spread." Sharing that sort of message helps "Team Manitoba", Kinew said. "That's what a leader would do."
Roussin said inoculating those most susceptible to severe outcomes of the virus will reduce potential strains on the health-care system and testing capacity, and reduce fatalities, ahead of an expected third wave.
There's uncertainty about how many doses the federal government will allocate to the province and when they might arrive, the public health chief said.
It’s also unclear how many, and how often, doses will be shipped to the province. Roussin said he expects, early on, just small quantities to arrive in Manitoba on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
"So we’re going to have to find ways to prioritize…. we know there are lots of groups that should get it, but we’re unlikely to receive enough quantities to be able to do all the priority groups at once," Roussin said, adding decisions by public health and the government will be guided by evidence.
"Our communications strategy is going to be as transparent as it can be: that this is the amount of vaccine we’re receiving, this is the priority groups we want to give it to, this is how many is in each of them, and this is the sequence," he said. "It’s really tough to, right now, communicate that because we don’t have a for sure quantity that we’re receiving, when and how."
The sooner we get it, the better, Roussin said.
"There’s a lot of benefit to getting whatever vaccine we can get into arms early on," he said. "And then as we get more and more access, we want to have that population level coverage to ensure we don't see a major third or fourth wave."
— with files from Danielle DaSilva
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.