Province irons out kinks at vaccine supersite after hours-long delays

People going to get vaccinated against COVID-19 at the RBC Convention Centre Thursday morning said they didn’t experience the long waits described by others in recent days. 

Health officials gave CBC News a tour of the facility — pointing out where bottlenecks had occurred and describing steps taken to correct them — after some people reported waiting up to two hours to get their shots. 

Delfin Eusebio came with his daughter to get his shot, and made it in and out in just over half an hour.

“There’s no problem. Many chairs, very organized,” said Eusebio. 

His daughter, Jess Landingin, came with him to help and she said the setup was very comfortable.

“We got here 15 minutes before, and they directed us going up. They’re really very helpful and supportive in going around. There are people staged … and they direct you where to go.”

The first vaccination appointments began at 9 a.m. on Thursday. By 8:30 a.m., dozens of people had lined up outside the two large vaccination rooms on the first and third floors of the convention centre. 

The first-floor vaccination room is set up for people with mobility issues, and this is where many of the delays occurred, the province says. Anywhere between 20 and 60 per cent of the day’s clients would receive the vaccine there. 

Staff realized the days with the most delays also had higher percentages of elderly people, many of whom have mobility problems. Now, staff look ahead at the age demographic of the day’s clients, and plan accordingly.

No early arrivals, please

Another major bottleneck in recent days had been clients arriving early. The province is discouraging people from coming more than 15 minutes before their appointment, to try to reduce congestion. 

Emily Tacknyk took the bus down to the convention centre, and arrived an hour before her 11 a.m. appointment. She felt frustrated after staff told her she couldn’t wait inside.

“I had to come early, because I had to take the bus down here. I wasn’t going to drive down here … I don’t know the one-way streets, I could have gotten lost.”

Tacknyk said if she had known she wouldn’t be able to wait inside, she would have simply waited until she could get a vaccine from her doctor. 

The convention centre recently expanded to the third floor — which opened to clients on March 23. The operation shifted to a new model which was supposed to increase the number of doses each immunizer could administer — up from to around eight per hour to to 60 per hour. 

Sensitive new system

Last Friday, a scheduling program glitch meant that dozens of people with appointments at the centre waited up to two hours. 

By Monday, the province said that wait times were about 25 minutes on the third floor and about an hour on the first floor, but CBC News spoke to people who were still waiting hours to get their shots.

Dozens of people, mostly seniors, were stuck waiting in long lines outside the RBC Convention Centre vaccine supersite on March 26, after a computer glitch led to staff shortages. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Johanu Botha, co-lead on the province’s vaccine implementation task force, said Wednesday the new system has proved to be extremely sensitive to even small adjustments, such as staff trying to improve lines by rearranging them, or vaccine doses not being pre-drawn and ready.

In recent days, the province brought in additional staff, including 75 of City of Winnipeg employees. The province asked the city to provide 40 people to work evening shifts until April 6, while the province works to hire an additional 100 temporary navigators. 

On Wednesday, officials said average wait times were zero, meaning people received a vaccine at their appointed time.

‘Like clockwork’

Outside the convention centre Thursday morning, a steady stream of vehicles passed by the front entrance on York  Avenue, dropping people off.

Inside, a new seating area had been set up outside the room on the main floor, where people with mobility issues will get their vaccines. Previously, there was nowhere to sit and staff had to find other places for people to wait, which then made it harder to move people through when their turn came. 

During the registration process, clients are asked if they have any allergies or health conditions that could put them at risk of complications from the vaccine. If they answer yes, a clinician will go through an enhanced consent process — explaining what potential complications could arise — before the move to the immunization area.

The third-floor vaccination area is in a cavernous room which will eventually serve as many as 10,000 clients per day.

Off to one side, behind a row of dividers, immunizers sit at tables filling needles with vaccine.

Jim MacGill said the operation inside the convention centre ran “like clockwork” after he received his vaccine exactly at his appointed time of 9:30 a.m. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

In the seating area, rows of chairs are grouped into eight sections on the third floor, and four sections on the main floor. Each section has two rows of 10 chairs for people getting their shot, plus extras for caregivers.

Groups of three staff push a cart with pre-filled vaccine doses. One person checks the forms for each client, while the other two administer the vaccines and observe the clients afterward for any allergic reactions. 

Most patients will wait 20 minutes after their shot before leaving, while those with anaphylaxis or other health conditions will wait 30 minutes.

Jim MacGill had his appointment set for 9:30 a.m., which is exactly when he received his shot.

“Everything went like clockwork,” he said. 

MacGill received his second shot on Thursday. He said the first shot, which he received three weeks ago, also went smoothly, but this time there were many more people. 

Lenny Kerr received her first dose on Thursday, ahead of beginning her practicum working in long-term care. She also said the process went smoothly and she was in and out within 40 minutes. 

“It was pretty fast and organized and we moved. I wasn’t standing for very long. It was constantly moving to the next check-in station.”

Vaccinations will continue over the Easter long weekend, with normal operating hours at the site from 9 a.m. to around 8 p.m. The province expects to provide around 4,000 immunizations per day.