Premier says Winnipeg convention centre will be COVID-19 vaccine 'supersite,' as 1st doses arrive

The first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Manitoba.

Health-care workers at front of line for vaccinations

Canada Border Services Agency officers watch as the first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine are unloaded in Winnipeg on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (Submitted by the Canada Border Services Agency)

With the first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine now in Manitoba, Premier Brian Pallister announced Tuesday that Winnipeg's convention centre will be used in coming weeks as a "supersite" for administering the vaccine.

The initial doses landed in the province early Tuesday morning, the Canada Border Services Agency said.

Last weekend provincial officials said Manitoba will receive enough doses to vaccinate around 900 people to start, with the first doses going to health-care workers.

Now that the vaccine is in the province, the first injections are to be given Wednesday morning at the University of Manitoba's Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, at their Bannatyne campus adjacent to the Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg.

Nearly all of the 900 appointments for the first round of vaccinations have been booked and are expected to be delivered between Wednesday and Friday, the premier said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

'Supersite' for vaccine storage, administration

Pallister also announced that the province has established a "supersite" for vaccine storage, administration and logistics at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg.

He said health-care workers who received their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week will receive their second doses, which are required for the vaccine to be effective, at the RBC Convention Centre site in three weeks time. 

"I ask all Manitobans for their patience and understanding at this crucial time as we gradually roll out our immunization program as more vaccines become available and arrive in Manitoba," he said. 

"This is a monumental challenge, a historic challenge."

In addition, Pallister said province has secured 60 freezers to store doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has to be kept at an extremely low temperature, to allow Manitoba to store up to 1.8 million doses of the vaccine — the first to be approved by Health Canada.

Only health-care workers assigned to COVID-19 immunization clinics and older health-care workers who are in direct contact with patients and work in critical care units, acute care facilities or long term care facilities will be eligible for the first round of vaccinations, says a memo from Manitoba's Vaccine Implementation Task Force.

To be eligible, those working in critical-care units must have been born on or before Dec. 31, 1970, while those who work in acute care and long term care facilities must have been born on or before Dec. 31, 1960.

On Monday, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said quantities of the vaccine will be very scarce at first but more is on the way.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that arrived Tuesday was approved for use by Health Canada last week, and a shipment arrived in Canada for distribution on Monday.

On Tuesday morning, the federal government announced that it has reached an agreement with Moderna that would see the first doses of that COVID-19 vaccine shipped to Canada within 48 hours of Health Canada approval.