Manitoba's vaccine task force has promised to do better after a week of glitches and setbacks.
The Manitoba government has said all eligible Manitobans who want the COVID-19 vaccine will get a single dose by the end of June — or as early as May 21 if there is a robust supply — as shipments from the federal government are set to increase substantially over the next 90 days.
Province taps WRHA employee to serve as new director of COVID-19 immunization clinicsClick to Expand
Two months after being hired as the provincial director of COVID-19 immunization clinics, Kurt Janzen is no longer overseeing clinic operations.
Janzen, a long time employee of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, was hired for the job in late January for a six to nine month term.
The role primarily involved overseeing the workforce hired for the immunization campaign, scheduling, payroll management and co-ordinating services, a government spokesman previously told the Free Press.
Premier Brian Pallister was asked about Janzen's status with the COVID-19 immunization campaign at a press conference on Wednesday but declined to comment, saying it was a human resources issue.
"We can confirm that no one was removed from any role," a government spokesman said in a statement to the Free Press.
Following Janzen's departure, the director position was immediately backfilled temporarily, and an employee with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has since been seconded to the role full-time, the spokesman said.
The provincial director of COVID-19 immunization clinics reports to the operations lead for the COVID-19 vaccine implementation task force.
This week, Manitoba will receive 95,600 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including the largest single shipment to date: 54,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the United States.
Despite persistent delays at the mass vaccination clinic at the convention centre over the past week, Johanu Botha, co-lead for the task force, said everyone who went to the site and put up with lengthy lineups, received a shot on the day of their appointment.
"It’s a complex machine and we will make it hum, but I’d like to note that the RBC site is a part of a much larger system," Botha said. "We had supersites across this province administering doses, pop-ups reaching more remote Manitobans and focused immunization teams deploying to vulnerable Manitobans in congregate living facilities."
"While issues may arise in one part of our system, and we’ll keep monitoring for them and address them, more and more Manitobans are being immunized every day," he said.
As of Wednesday, 199,322 doses had been given to people in Manitoba (including on First Nations), which accounts for about 80 per cent of the supply received from Ottawa. Over the next month, the province’s immunization network will have days where as many as 10,000 doses are administered, Botha said.
However, due to data entry backlogs at the Winnipeg vaccination clinic, the number of administered doses reported each day will be delayed 48 to 72 hours. Botha said his team is working to eliminate the backlog by adding data entry clerks.
The next shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine will again be administered at pharmacies and physicians' offices. This time around, 400 to 500 locations will receive doses.
Provincial officials did not specify Wednesday whether any doses would be allocated to homecare providers or prioritized for people who cannot easily leave their home.
"We are ramping up and planning to preposition all of the necessary supplies with our partners like we did last time, so we can hit the ground running," Botha said.
In the wake of safety concerns related to the AstraZeneca vaccine, following reports of a rare vaccine-induced blood clotting condition in Europe, the province’s medical lead for the COVID-19 task force again encouraged people who can receive the vaccine based on provincial eligibility criteria, to sign up for the shot.
"These vaccines are safe and effective and that particularly for people who are over 55, the risk of COVID, even the risk of blood clots due to COVID, is much greater than the risk of this very rare of blood clot with low platelets is from the AstraZeneca vaccine," Dr. Joss Reimer said.
"We wouldn’t be offering this vaccine if we didn’t believe that we were actually providing them with more benefit than we were risk," Reimer said.
Reimer said the current eligibility criteria for AstraZeneca which prioritized people under 65 years old with select medical conditions, but stops at anyone younger than 55 years old, in accordance with federal recommendations, ensures that those at highest risk of severe outcomes can access a vaccine.
"We don’t expect to see this rare side-effect in Manitoba. But we certainly have already seen severe long lasting outcomes, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID and we want to provide people with a way to protect themselves as quickly as possible," Reimer said.
She said the province is taking a second look at its AstraZeneca eligibility criteria before releasing more doses to doctors and pharmacists, but will not offer the shot to people younger than 55.
Meanwhile, Botha said the task force is preparing for delays in receiving Moderna vaccines from the federal government.
A confirmed shipment of 28,000 doses of Moderna set to arrive next week has been delayed to at least April 12. Botha said the shipment could arrive as late as April 16. The province may be forced to reschedule pop-up clinics in rural and remote areas.
The province also intends to open a new mass vaccination clinic in each of the five health regions between mid-April and end of May, Botha said. The next supersite will be located in Winnipeg.
"The supply that we have confirmed coming in across Pfizer and Moderna… is 40,000 a week," Botha said. "But it’s not enough to fill the capacity of our existing supersites so we have a bit of time to get the other ones up."
Planning is also underway to stage vaccination clinics in Winnipeg on a smaller, community level, over the next three months, he said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.