Manitoba’s health minister is satisfied with pace of COVID-19 vaccine rollout despite supply problems

Manitoba’s health minister says she’s pleased with a provincial vaccine campaign under increasing scrutiny for moving too slowly. 

“There’s always challenges with respect to any kind of situation with … the pandemic, and certainly I am pleased with the COVID vaccine task force that has put together and doing, I think, very, very good work to ensure that we get those vaccines in the arms of Manitobans,” Heather Stefanson said Tuesday at a pre-budget news conference.

Stefanson cast some of the blame for the rollout strategy on “challenges with supply” from the federal government. On Monday, the province delayed pop-up clinics in 18 rural communities due to slowdowns in deliveries of the Moderna vaccine. 

Asked later why the province isn’t close to its theoretical target of administering 20,000 doses a day, Stefanson acknowledged “sometimes glitches do happen” in regards to staffing.

Doling out doses

Manitoba averaged 5,491 doses a day over the past seven days. The target for the week was 6,566 doses, vaccine team logistics lead Johanu Botha said on March 31,

The province says it has the capacity to administer 20,918 doses per day, if sufficient supplies arrived. As of Monday, Manitoba had 155,312 doses on hand.

Stefanson dismissed a suggestion Manitoba isn’t moving fast enough. She says all doses in storage are accounted for, through appointment or a future pop-up clinic.

“I think we’re doing quite well,” she said of the vaccination campaign, which will cost $100 million in the fiscal year ahead. “Obviously, there’s challenges and we’ll address those as they come forward.”

Opposition leader Wab Kinew calls that assertion “concerning.”

“What we need to see is more urgency and more dedication from the provincial government to ramp up and scale up the pace at which they’re delivering vaccines to people in the province right now,” he said.

Kinew wants to see money dedicated to accelerating the vaccine campaign in the provincial budget.

“This is an investment, not just in rolling out a successful vaccination program. This is an investment in our economy, this is an investment in our province, this is an investment in bringing the pandemic to an end.” 

As of Monday, the province has administered 210,088 vaccine doses of the 372,030 doses it has received.

Stefanson was pressed Tuesday at a news conference where Finance Minister Scott Fielding pledged $1.18 billion in spending in the next fiscal year to address the COVID-19 response and provide contingency funding just in case.

Of that funding, $350 million is set aside for additional health-care system costs in preparation for a possible third wave of COVID-19 and $230 million for personal protective equipment, infrastructure at testing and vaccine sites, contact tracing and other public health needs. 

The province will earmark $160 million for schooling needs, $100 million for the vaccine program and $40 million for capital projects in municipalities. The remaining $300 million is reserved for other pandemic-related needs. 

Fielding says the budgeted money for the vaccination campaign will ensure adequate staffing. 

Last week, some people reported waiting up to two hours for their scheduled vaccine shot at the RBC Convention Centre. Health officials say they’ve ironed out the kinks by hiring additional staff, bringing in more workers on certain shifts and setting up more seating.