A Winnipeg dentist says she was shocked by the disorganization of the vaccine rollout when she arrived for her first shift as a volunteer immunizer at the RBC Convention Centre super site last week.
The first red flag came shortly after she walked through the door.
"There is a separate entrance for the staff and there’s a desk with a security guard. There is an actual physical sign-in sheet with one pen. No one disinfects the pen in between people so all the staff for the whole day use the same pen. I was floored," said the woman who did not want her name published.
"There’s a big hall with maybe 30 or 40 stations separated… I checked in and said, ‘I’m here.’ Nobody checked my ID, nobody checked anything. I was flabbergasted. I could have been anybody. They just said, ‘Go in, here’s your desk.’" She said she felt unprepared by the training offered by the province: a course at Red River College, followed by an online class on workplace safety and privacy concerns.
Manitoba's pandemic response a lesson in what not to do: retired EMO bossClick to Expand
Posted: 7:30 PM Jan. 19, 2021
Problems with the province's vaccine rollout and its handling of the COVID-19 crisis could've been prevented, said Chuck Sanderson, who ran Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization for 11 years before retiring. He said there's a "fatal flaw" in it.
"They tasked all the planning to an already exhausted health department," he said. "They're not equipped to be emergency managers." The Emergency Measures Act requires that EMO oversees all aspects of preparedness in the province as well as manage, direct and co-ordinate the response of all departments to a disaster.
The woman said neither she nor the handful of other people starting their first shifts had been trained to use the computer system that logs in the vaccine information, so another staffer gave them a crash course on it. She said each volunteer immunizer developed their own protocol for administering the jabs, so nothing was done in a consistent manner. Some people took much longer to vaccinate than others, she said, while the workflow was not streamlined and there was no division of labour, with each vaccinator having to do a variety of tasks — such as fetching vaccine doses or data entry — which slowed down the process.
"For me, it was a s---show. It wasn’t organized. I’m thinking, if they think they’re going to vaccinate people by the end of September, it’s not going to happen. No way. It’s a huge mess," she said, adding Shared Health told her she would be eligible to be vaccinated prior to giving the jabs.
"But then I get there and it isn’t even anything that is brought up. On my second day, I asked them, ‘Am I going to be vaccinated?’… And they were like, ‘Well, we ran out of vaccines,’" the woman said.
The PPE — a "basic surgical mask" and no gloves — was insufficient to keep her safe given how many people she interacted with during her shifts, she said.
A patient asked for documentation to prove they'd been vaccinated, and when the dentist asked someone in charge about it, she was told "Well, there is none, nothing right now.
"And I just thought, once again, we’ve been at this for 10 months. Why hasn’t this been set up?"
During her first five-hour shift, she managed to vaccinate just 36 people. On her second shift, she refused to take a break, and "got up to 66 people" vaccinated. What concerned her most, she said, was understaffing. On Jan. 13, she said there were only 20 to 25 people administering vaccines during her shift. On Jan. 15, her second shift, there were just eight to 12, she said. By then, she said she was so frustrated by the disorganization, that she decided to quit. "I have a full practice to run. I’m not putting my patients at risk, nor my family, nor anybody else," the dentist said.
A provincial spokeswoman said in a written statement that the extent of training immunizers receives "depends on the level of experience they have related to providing immunizations and entering data in our immunization tracking system."
She said each immunizer is responsible for the following tasks: drawing and administering vaccines; ensuring the cold chain of vaccine is maintained; monitoring for reactions post-immunization and managing adverse effects; and following the informed consent process; among others.
While immunizers are eligible to receive the vaccine, the spokeswoman said, they must book their own appointments through the call centre. She also said immunization records are not provided to people who get the vaccine to "minimize the amount of paper being shared at sites."
The spokeswoman said the province tailors staff levels to the number of appointments made each day. Last Wednesday, there were 28 immunizers scheduled at the RBC Convention Centre super site, while on Friday, there were 14, according to data provided by the province.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.