With promise of COVID-19 vaccines on the way, Manitoba says details needed on federal rollout plans

While Manitoba waits for a COVID-19 vaccine that may be ready within two months, the provincial government says it has little information about Ottawa’s plans for the highly anticipated drug.

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Thursday he recently co-wrote a letter to his counterpart in Ottawa, Patty Hajdu, requesting more information before the first shipment of an effective vaccine. 

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday that he was optimistic Manitoba will receive a vaccine as early as January, although the province won’t likely receive much in quantity that month. 

“We must know much, much more for Manitoba in respect of vaccine, vaccine planning, distribution planning, storage planning,” Friesen told reporters on Thursday.

“We have heard precious little from the federal government.”

The provincial health minister said the clock is ticking, as Manitoba wants to distribute whatever shipment it receives as soon as possible. 

Vaccines must be stored in cold temperatures

In recent days, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna have announced successful trials of their coronavirus vaccines, but the distribution of either vaccine is complicated by the requirement they be stored in cold temperatures. 

“If this is the case, we only have a number of weeks to think about how we’re going to react and to be able to find capacity like that,” Friesen said.

Ottawa wants an equitable approach to doling out the vaccine in every jurisdiction, but “we need to make sure that the feds are making clear what that approach is,” he said.

“You’ve probably heard already, around the margins, that we could imagine that the first populations that would be eligible for a vaccine would be people in hospitals or people in long-term care homes, possibly front-line health-care workers and other categories.”

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the province needs more information from the federal government to prepare to store and distribute the valuable shots in the arm that could help end the COVID-19 pandemic. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

He said Manitoba’s distribution plan will be guided, in part, by the work done every year to deliver flu shots, with some important differences.

“We’re ready on this side” for a vaccine, Friesen said. “Now all we need is information and direction, and that can only come from the federal government.”

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the provincial government has established a cabinet committee responsible for the vaccine’s rollout, which he said Premier Brian Pallister spoke about at a recent estimates committee hearing.

“I want to make sure that the leading public health experts we’ve got in the province are engaged in that process,” Kinew said.

The government’s response to the pandemic has been inept, he charged, from testing capacity to contact tracing, and he said he doesn’t want the same to be true of a vaccine rollout.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said he’s encouraged by the promising vaccine candidates announced thus far, but the province must get a grip on its worsening COVID-19 case numbers first.

“We don’t know when this vaccine will be ready. We don’t know if it’ll be January, we don’t know if it’ll be June. We do know that if we don’t act now to drive down cases, we’re going to have an absolute disaster on our hands by January.”