Thompson’s airport-based vaccination supersite hits turbulence, downtown site added

The proposed COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Thompson has encountered a bit of turbulence and a slight change in plans.

Mayor Colleen Smook said the supersite — dubbed Vaxport by Premier Brian Pallister, because it’s located in a hangar near the northern Manitoba city’s airport — is somewhat troubling, and she noted the municipality wasn’t initially consulted.

“My first concern was the site wasn’t going to be adequate, or big enough. So I expressed my concerns to the government and our [health authority] and anybody that would listen,” she said.

Although the city has a population of 13,000, it also serves as a centre for surrounding northern communities, a population closer to 50,000, Smook said.

The Manitoba government announced last month it would open three so-called supersites in the province — located in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson. Winnipeg’s opened Jan. 6 at the convention centre, Brandon’s is set to open on Monday and Thompson’s in early February.

The other drawback to Vaxport is that the airport is about 10 kilometres from the city — not exactly convenient for many people, especially with no buses running out there along the gravel road, Smook said.

“It wasn’t [suitable] for local people, or even our outlying communities and partners that would want to travel into Thompson, and then you’re still another five miles out to the airport,” Smook said, adding there are a lot of people on social assistance who simply have no way to get out there. 

Colleen Smook says two vaccination sites in Thompson will better serve the needs of northern residents. (Ramraajh Sharvendiran/CBC)

Some senior government officials were in the city on Thursday and toured Vaxport with Smook, who announced Friday that a second site is being set up at the more central Thompson Regional Community Centre, where flu vaccines were administered in the fall.

The COVID-19 vaccine will be flown into the city and stored at Vaxport, with whatever doses deemed necessary transported to the downtown site, Smook said.

“We still will have a large population that is flying in [to the city] and definitely the airport site is very convenient that way,” she said.

It is also ideal for people coming from communities that are in lockdown and keeping to themselves, Smook said.

“They don’t have to come in [to the city centre] and mingle. They can keep to their community lockdown standards,” she said.

“We have to think of all of our neighbours and what’s best for the north.”