City of Winnipeg pushes province for clarity on whether first responders will get vaccine priority

The City of Winnipeg is trying to find out when its front-line essential workers, particularly paramedics and police officers, will be eligible to book an appointment for their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Mayor Brian Bowman said during a news conference Friday.

Currently, any Manitoba health-care workers in direct contact with patients in intensive care units, COVID-19 immunization or testing sites, designated COVID-19 wards, correctional facilities, and labs that handle COVID-19 specimens are eligible for the vaccine. Health-care workers working with patients at acute and long-term care facilities, who are born before 1976, are also eligible.

The provincial government has also distributed doses of the Moderna vaccine to First Nations, and about 2,000 doses will roll out to care homes next week.

“This is great to hear. But we do need more details at the city to ensure our essential workers are on the province’s radar for priority access to the vaccine,” said Bowman.

“Access to these details are being requested so the city can determine how and when plans for vaccine prioritization will affect our essential services personnel.”

While the city supports prioritizing vaccine distribution to those who need it most, officials asked the provincial government last month to consider including Winnipeg’s emergency responders in the eligibility criteria for prioritization, said Jaw Shaw, the City of Winnipeg’s assistant chief of emergency management.

Currently, only certain Manitoba health-care workers who work directly with patients are eligible to book appointments to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Doses of the Moderna vaccine have been sent to some First Nations, and care homes will receive doses next week. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

“It is our hope that the vaccine will be rolled out to front-line workers as soon as possible, including to our bus operators, once supply of the vaccine is more widely available,” said Shaw.

Bowman wrote to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister Thursday to ask when the city can expect further information, and he has updated the rest of city council and unions representing city workers on his efforts, Bowman said.

The Manitoba government extended current public health restrictions under the red, or critical, level of the provincial pandemic response system for another two weeks on Friday. A change was made to allow Winnipeg-based professional hockey teams to play and train, and to exempt them from self-isolation rules after travelling.

The province will seek public consultation on potential changes to restrictions in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, Bowman urges Winnipeggers to keep following the rules and following guidelines such as practising proper hand hygiene, wearing masks indoors and maintaining physical distancing.

“Let’s continue to do what we can as a community and as individuals to get back to truly flattening the curve,” the mayor said. “Hopefully, in a few weeks, we’ll see numbers that are reducing at a rate I know all of us … want to see.”

As of Jan. 7, there were nine known active COVID-19 cases among city workers and 41 people in self-isolation, said Shaw.

A total of 151 city workers, including firefighters, paramedics and police officers, have tested positive for the illness since last March, he said.

Shinny players given warnings

Winnipeg bylaw officers enforcing COVID-19 restrictions for the province issued two warnings on Jan. 5, both to large groups of people playing hockey on outdoor rinks who were not adhering to physical distancing guidelines, said Shaw.

Officers warned both groups that organized games of hockey with large groups are prohibited, and that they must physically distance, said Shaw, adding that both groups co-operated with officers.

There are currently 22 outdoor rinks open to the public to use, with 17 more on the way, said Shaw. But the provincial public health order still caps outdoor public gathering sizes at five people.

“We are continuing to remind everyone to respect the provincial public health orders so we can continue to have these venues open safely,” he said.

Shaw warned that if Winnipeggers do not adhere to the public health rules, the city will have to consider implementing “the next level of enforcement.”