A two-hour drive stands between John Suderman and his vaccine.

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A two-hour drive stands between John Suderman and his vaccine.

The 91-year-old Dauphin resident is currently eligible to be immunized against COVID-19 but he needs to get to a vaccination clinic because he lives on his own.

When he booked his vaccine appointment this week, Suderman, a retired high school principal, realized he would have to drive to the nearest immunization site in Brandon.

"At the age of 91, there are not that many people that are sharp enough to do it on their own or have the energy to do it on their own, and so they are left hanging dry," he said.

John Suderman, 91, had to drive two hours to Brandon to get his vaccine shot. (Supplied)

John Suderman, 91, had to drive two hours to Brandon to get his vaccine shot. (Supplied)

Barring a sudden snowstorm, he plans to drive himself or may enlist a friend to help.

Meanwhile, his younger friends in retirement residences and seniors buildings are having doses brought to them. He said he understands immunization teams can't just show up at his door because of the way the vials currently have to be stored and distributed, but he believes the province could have planned things differently. The fact he can't show up at a local seniors' residence to be vaccinated along with residents doesn't make sense, he said.

Suderman feels his relative good health at his age has meant he's "sort of left holding the bag".

"I do know that I'm pretty lucky to be this old and still be able to do it," he said.

On Wednesday, the province expanded vaccine eligibility to Manitobans 89 and older, or 69 and up for First Nations residents.

Manitoba's rollout began with frontline health-care workers and personal care home residents, and has been opened up to the oldest members of the general public, but those living in care homes and other "congregate living facilities" have been given priority based on their higher risk.

The provincial vaccine task force intends to open pop-up vaccination clinics outside of Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson, but there's still no schedule for when that will happen or where they will be located. Two new clinics are expected to open soon: one in Selkirk on March 8, and one in Morden on a date yet to be announced.

But for now, elderly Manitobans who live in their own homes have no choice but to travel to a vaccine supersite.

Manitoba Health Minister Heather Stefanson (second from left) and Premier Brian Pallister (centre) tour the immunization super-site at the Keystone Centre in Brandon in January. (Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun files)

Manitoba Health Minister Heather Stefanson (second from left) and Premier Brian Pallister (centre) tour the immunization super-site at the Keystone Centre in Brandon in January. (Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun files)

"The focus at the moment, given the models that we have in place and given the eligibility criteria, means that yes, individuals who are not in congregate living facilities or fall in that rank do not currently have the option of having some sort of other model available to them," Johanu Botha, co-lead for the COVID-19 vaccination task force, told reporters Wednesday.

"So, the supersites (are) the option at the moment, hence why we’ve gone to great lengths to make the supersite experience itself as safe and comfortable for elderly individuals, like making sure they’re mobile friendly, ensuring that a primary caregiver can move with someone throughout the supersite and so on."

Residents at certain 55-plus apartment buildings have been able to get priority vaccinations if the residence meets the province's congregate living criteria, including shared living quarters on site and residents who are unable to get to a vaccine clinic. The task force targeted homes according to residents' age, health conditions and risk levels. Not all 55-plus buildings are included in the province's current vaccine rollout, a provincial spokesman confirmed Wednesday.

The planning took into account the province's age and population data, but it didn't capture the number of Manitobans who are older than 90 and are living independently.

Some of them, including Julie Nauta, will likely have to wait until their vaccines can come to them. Nauta is 91 and living with her daughter in Winnipeg. She's too weak to travel or navigate the phone-booking appointment system.

"It would mean a lot to me, but I cannot go there under those circumstances," Nauta told the Free Press over the phone.

"I'm disappointed. I mean, I've been a citizen of this country 54 years and now it seems that it doesn't really matter," said Nauta, who emigrated from the Netherlands. She said she feels like she's "being thrown away."

Her daughter, Martha Nauta, said it would be ideal if home care nurses could administer the vaccine to her mother.

"She's at high risk here. I have so many home care workers coming into the home here, it scares me," Martha said.

"Logistically, they're going to have to think about the future."

— with files from Danielle Da Silva

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
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Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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