Manitoba has stopped booking new appointments at three of its five big clinics after demand for COVID-19 vaccinations exceeded the number of shots shipped outside Winnipeg.
Johanu Botha, operations lead for the provincial vaccine task force, said each of the province’s mass vaccination clinics is provided doses on a per capita basis.
But as of Monday, all doses allocated to clinics in Thompson, Brandon and Selkirk had been spoken for, Botha said. The vaccination hotline and the online booking system stopped accepting appointments at those locations.
"There is demand across the system," Botha said Tuesday. "And with low supply overall, we allocate trays based on population size to be fair to all the regions."
"Brandon, Selkirk, and likely the Thompson site, they were able to just work through their allocation faster than (Winnipeg)," he said. "We don’t, at the moment, have more supply to allocate out to them."
Botha said the three clinics are still delivering immunizations and appointments will be available again late this week or early next week. Appointments continue to be offered in Winnipeg at the downtown convention centre.
Botha said shots would not be diverted from Winnipeg to other communities at this time.
"If we’re flush with supply and we see there is a greater demand… in one of those areas down the line, we can then start getting creative and taking a partial tray and ship it out so we can increase appointments," Botha said.
He said availability of appointments is also based on the province receiving confirmed vaccine delivery schedules from the federal government. As of Tuesday, Botha said Manitoba had yet to receive delivery schedules for Moderna beyond April 25, and for Pfizer-BioNTech beyond May 30.
The task force has to be mindful of booking appointments too far in advance in case people do not show up for their appointment, or if the size of deliveries is greater than expected. The latter scenario could result in younger Manitobans getting their shot before older folks, if appointments are scheduled too far out, Botha said.
For those reasons, he said appointments are not made more than four weeks in advance.
The newly opened clinic in Morden, the first in the Southern Health region, continues to book new appointments.
On Tuesday, a number of pharmacists and doctors were still accepting appointments for the AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine.
Meanwhile, Botha said the age eligibility criteria for COVID-19 vaccination will stay at 65, and 45 for First Nations people, for some time to allow as many eligible individuals to book appointments as possible, before the criteria are lowered.
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Botha said when the age criteria was lowered to 65 from 67 on Monday, a significant number of people became eligible at once.
"It’s one of the very rare times where, for a brief blip, we’re at a weird pressure point for the next couple of days," Botha said. "Overall our planning was good, because there’s enough appointments in the system, but because that cohort was big, it meant that in some sites… they filled up their appointments."
As of Tuesday, 152,900 doses had been given to Manitobans, including First Nations — which is reported independently from provincial figures — representing 78.9 per cent of the 193,760 doses the province has received to date.
Inventory at mass vaccination clinics in Manitoba is expected to reach its lowest level on Wednesday. The latest shipment of roughly 14,000 Pfizer doses, which arrived late last week, is to be used up by March 27.
Later this week, the province expects to receive a shipment of 42,120 Pfizer doses and 12,300 Moderna doses. By March 29, officials say the total number of doses administered at the mass vaccination clinics each day will hit 7,000.
Danielle Da Silva Reporter
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
A pilot program meant to speed up immunizations at the mass COVID-19 vaccination site in Winnipeg had a rough launch Tuesday morning, which resulted in extended waits for some patients.
The province is testing a new delivery model at the third-floor clinic of the RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg and at the Access Event Centre in Morden.
The model, which has been used in Ontario, is intended to simplify the work of immunizers by delegating other roles to other staff members.
However, one health-care worker who was booked in for his second dose appointment at the convention centre Tuesday described the clinic as extremely disorganized compared with his first time getting a shot, which was well executed.
The worker, who asked that his name not be used, said it appeared staff was being trained on-site, and clients had to wait, at times clustered in hallways, for more than 20 minutes to be sent to a station for their shot.
Meanwhile, no more than three immunizers were available to deliver shots to the dozens of people waiting for their turn, he said, which prolonged the time spent in the clinic.
Manitoba government officials say the number of doses given by immunizers per hour could be increased using the new model, in which clients sit in chairs in rows, and immunizers walk down aisles with a cart to give doses directly to clients. Other staff handle data entry, update immunization records and fill needles.
A provincial spokesman confirmed the clinic experienced setbacks Tuesday.
“We apologize for the delays and inconvenience people may have experienced,” the spokesman said in al statement. “We quickly became aware of issues on site and made real-time adjustments to accommodate lengthy lineups and waiting times.
“We are diligently working on providing a more positive experience for Manitobans.”