A slack Sunday had vaccinators at Manitoba's largest COVID-19 inoculation centre spending hours with little to do, waiting for people to show up over the long weekend.
Public health officials were so worried after backlash over previous delays that they decided to book fewer people for vaccines during Easter break than planned, four staff members from the RBC Convention Centre supersite in Winnipeg told the Free Press in separate interviews.
The province repeatedly said in the last two weeks that it is able to deliver 20,000 vaccinations per day, should supply become available. But on Sunday, vaccinators confirmed, only 3,918 jabs were administered at Winnipeg's supersite and 4,000 were planned for the entire province. The Winnipeg site alone was designed to do between 6,000 and 7,000 shots per day.
"What's really the issue is that the province seems to think this coronavirus goes to bed over the weekend," said a vaccinator from Winnipeg's supersite on Sunday.
"What's really the issue is that the province seems to think this coronavirus goes to bed over the weekend." –Vaccinator
"To say it's disappointing is an understatement," said another vaccinator, who called it a "slap in the face" to be working at any site over the weekend "while having literally nothing to do."
He and other staff members spoke on condition of anonymity because they're afraid they will face repercussions otherwise. Staffers at vaccine sites have been asked repeatedly by the province to not speak to members of the media.
"But everyone needs to know about this because, realistically, we could be doing one shot per minute with our teams now," another vaccinator said, adding that she was asked to leave more than an hour before her shift ended on Friday.
"I was told there weren't enough bookings for me to help with," she said. "It's disheartening because we had enough doses for so many more people than were allowed to be booked, and because all of us gave up our weekends with the hope that we could get people vaccinated by the thousands and not this itty-bitty amount."
The province did not respond by press time to requests for comment. Citing the long weekend, automatic emailed replies from five different spokespeople said, "Media assistance will be limited."
"It's disheartening because we had enough doses for so many more people than were allowed to be booked, and because all of us gave up our weekends with the hope that we could get people vaccinated by the thousands and not this itty–bitty amount." –Vaccinator
A COVID-19 bulletin with the latest cases and vaccination rates was not available Sunday. Provincial health officials announced 181 new cases and one death from the virus on Saturday, which accounts for two days of data because a bulletin wasn't available on Friday.
All four vaccinators that the Free Press spoke to said they don't believe the lack of needles in arms is due to appointment no-shows or a hesitancy to get the vaccine.
Instead, they said they believe it's because of a failure to ramp up vaccination bookings "because of bad publicity" from delays in late March that forced hundreds of people to contend with long queues, sometimes stretching outside the clinic.
"The government doesn't report numbers on the weekend... they scale down vaccinations and we've been told by people that came here that they're not available for any questions about booking problems on the weekend either," a vaccinator said.
"To be honest, I'm sure all of us would love to help with this 24 hours a day, no matter the holiday, and we've told our supervisors about that so many times, too. But nothing's changed."
"I'm sure all of us would love to help with this 24 hours a day, no matter the holiday, and we've told our supervisors about that so many times, too. But nothing's changed." –Vaccinator
Doctors Manitoba — which represents more than 3,000 physicians in the province — said while the organization appreciates the hard work of government officials in overseeing the vaccine rollout, it is extremely worried.
"Physicians are very concerned about getting as many Manitobans immunized as quickly possible, especially with the threat of a third wave with more dangerous variants of COVID-19," spokesman Keir Johnson said in a statement Sunday.
"We believe there are lessons Manitoba can learn from those countries leading the world in getting their citizens immunized," said Johnson. "While it might be easier to save mRNA vaccines for the government's mass immunization clinics, it would be better to also offer these vaccines in doctor's offices across the province."
Research from Doctors Manitoba has found that medical clinics can handle up to 5,500 more doses per day beyond what the province has already planned for these clinics.
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.