Manitoba’s premier on Saturday repeated his call for surplus doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. to be shipped to Canada — and said President Joe Biden needs to “get out of the way.”
Brian Pallister said the province was working on a plan with North Dakota to ship thousands of vaccine doses from that state up to Manitoba, but it was “kiboshed” by the White House, which needs to approve such requests.
“I’m advocating for the United States and the White House in particular to get out of the way and let states and provinces co-operate on getting vaccines that are in freezers in the United States up into Canada, into arms,” Pallister said at a rare Saturday morning news conference.
“Thus far, President Biden has said no. I say, ‘Let’s go, Joe.’ The right answer is yes. We need your help, and we need it now.”
Manitoba is in the midst of battling its rising third wave of COVID-19, which has strained the province’s capacity to care for its sickest patients. Five intensive care patients from the province have now been transferred to hospitals in Ontario to free up space, with plans to move as many as 15 more if needed, officials said.
Pallister has also asked Ottawa to send Manitoba critical care nurses, respiratory therapists and contact tracers to help fight rising COVID-19 numbers.
On Saturday, he pointed to Manitoba’s agreement to have truckers vaccinated in North Dakota — which he said has so far allowed more than 1,000 drivers crossing the border to get immunized — as an example of how provinces and states want to work together on their vaccine rollouts.
Pallister said Manitoba’s vaccine team has told him they could immunize an additional 100,000 Manitobans in the next 10 days if they had the vaccine supply to do it — an issue he said would be solved by the province’s proposal to get doses from the U.S.
“We have trucks ready to go. We’ve got freezers in them. They’re fuelled. We’ve got drivers. We need to get down there,” Pallister said.
“I want [those vaccines] to be in Manitobans’ arms, not sitting in freezers in Minneapolis. Doesn’t make sense to me. Common sense says, ‘Let’s solve this problem.’ The governors, the premiers, want it solved. We just need Joe Biden to say yes.”
WATCH | More details on Pallister’s call for vaccines:
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew called Pallister’s comments a “desperate” attempt to deflect blame for Manitoba’s COVID-19 situation.
“The premier has blamed everybody for the failures in the vaccine rollout and refused to accept responsibility for himself,” Kinew said at the Manitoba Legislature Saturday, following Pallister’s news conference.
“To date, he’s blamed First Nations people, he’s blamed Justin Trudeau, and today he blames Joe Biden. We know what’s next. He is going to blame Manitobans for his own failure to accelerate the vaccine rollout.”
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont echoed that criticism in an emailed statement Saturday.
“Before the Premier blames people for not doing their jobs, he should start doing his,” Lamont said, calling for clearer pandemic guidelines and enforcement.
He called the weekend press conference “pathetic” and said “pick[ing] a fight with the White House … is a waste of precious time in a crisis.”
Roughly half of Manitobans have 1st dose
Pallister said he asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to raise the issue with Biden when they spoke on Friday.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday referred CBC News to a statement from Trudeau’s office released on Friday, which said he and Pallister “discussed how both governments can continue working co-operatively to quickly deliver safe and effective vaccines to Manitobans.”
CBC News has also requested comment from the White House.
The Manitoba premier first called for the White House to allow COVID-19 vaccines to be shipped from North Dakota to Manitoba two weeks ago.
That call came after the premier announced a plan to let teachers and school staff travel to the U.S. state to get immunized there — a proposal that was derided by many educators.
As of Saturday, more than 57 per cent of people 18 and older in Manitoba had received at least one vaccine dose, the province’s online vaccine dashboard says. Nearly 48 per cent of those 12 and older have received at least one shot.
Officials said this week Manitoba still plans to get two doses to everyone 12 and up who wants to be vaccinated by the end of July. The target for delivering all first doses is still June 9, the province’s latest vaccine technical briefing document says.
Meanwhile, people who meet certain criteria were able to start booking appointments for their second doses on Friday.
Indigenous people in Manitoba will also be eligible to book second dose appointments starting Monday. Those who got the first dose at least 21 days ago for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot or at least 28 days ago for the one from Moderna qualify.