As first-dose bookings for the COVID-19 vaccine begin to level off, the importance of providing Manitobans with walk-in access will become a critical factor in the effort to reach herd immunity.

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As first-dose bookings for the COVID-19 vaccine begin to level off, the importance of providing Manitobans with walk-in access will become a critical factor in the effort to reach herd immunity.

On Friday, the province announced Manitobans will be able to get immunized June 15-17 at the Leila Avenue super site without an appointment.

It’s the second time the Winnipeg site is offering walk-up service. On May 27-28, about 2,500 people showed up to get a shot without an appointment. It was a clear signal that while many are willing to get immunized, some won’t or can’t, book a spot in advance.

Some people don’t have computers, Wi-Fi, or a phone. Some may be uncertain of where to go or who to call. The list of potential barriers is long.

Whatever the case, there's percentage that will not get immunized if they have to book an appointment. It's not necessarily because they're unwilling to get the vaccine.

A recent survey conducted for the province suggested 87 per cent of Manitobans had already received their first shot, or were planning to do so.

So far, close to 70 per cent of people aged 12 and over have received a first shot. But the growth of new bookings for first doses has slowed in recent weeks.

While the percentage of seniors who have received a first dose is extremely high (above 90 per cent for those over age 70), the numbers fall off for younger cohorts.

As of Friday, between 55 and 60 per cent of people in their 20s and 30s had been immunized. Almost 70 per cent of those in their 40s, and 73 per cent in their 50s, had received one shot. The initial uptake was good for all age groups, but it has slowed the past two weeks.

No one knows for sure how walk-up access might change that, but considering the Leila site success story last month, it clearly fills a void.

The question is: why isn’t the province setting up more walk-in clinics?

Public health officials have started going into vulnerable communities with mobile immunization teams, which has proven successful. But there needs to be far more walk-in access around the capital city and in rural areas for more convenient use.

It also has to be promoted better. It’s not enough to announce such clinics through news releases and rely largely on mainstream media and social media to spread the word. Not everyone is connected to those forms of communication.

Government has to get creative. In Montreal, officials drove around residential streets earlier this year with megaphones announcing the opening of a walk-in clinic. It got people’s attention.

Manitoba has a lot of vaccine in stock. As of Friday, the province had more than 110,000 doses in cold storage, not including another 34,000 distributed to third parties, such as First Nations, clinics and pharmacies.

The 110,000 is reserved strictly for super sites, pop-up clinics and focused immunization teams. The province plans to take nine days to use up that inventory (including only 10,000 doses Sunday). It's expecting to receive another 87,000 doses of Pfizer next week.

The province should be administering those doses quicker, including through walk-in clinics.

It’s unclear what percentage of the population needs to be immunized to achieve herd immunity. Most experts are now saying more than 80 per cent of people need to be fully vaccinated to return to normal life, especially with more contagious strains now circulating.

The province should be doing everything it can to get needles into arms as quickly as possible, both first doses and second, to hit that benchmark. Walk-in clinics are an important piece of that puzzle.

If you haven’t had your first shot yet, or you know someone who hasn’t, get yourself or them down to the super site at 770 Leila Ave. on Tuesday (9 a.m.-3:45 p.m.), Wednesday (1-7:45 p.m.) or Thursday (9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.).

You don’t need an appointment, just walk in.

It's time to empty those fridges.

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck

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

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