'Today we start fighting back': Manitobans get 1st doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Around 900 front-line health-care workers who meet specific work and age criteria are being immunized with the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Manitoba Wednesday through Friday this week.

Province plans to establish 'supersite' for vaccinations in Winnipeg, more sites across province in new year

Sherry Plett raises her arms in a cheer after getting the vaccine on Wednesday morning. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Applause rang out in Winnipeg as the first Manitobans to receive the COVID-19 vaccine were given their initial dose Wednesday morning.

"One step closer," Sherry Plett said about getting the shot, which will require a followup dose in about three weeks to complete the vaccination process.

"I feel like this is the beginning to the end, so it's very exciting for Manitoba to get this. I'm so happy."

The historic first vaccinations began just after 8:30 a.m.

The patients were required to answer a number of screening questions from a public health nurse about their health histories and then warned about possible side-effects.

After the shot, they were led to a recovery area for a 15-minute rest and observation for any adverse reactions.

WATCH | First Manitobans get the COVID-19 vaccine:

Manitobans get 1st doses of COVID-19 vaccine

2 years ago
Duration 1:57
The first Covid-19 vaccination given today.

Brian Penner, a physician at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, received the first shot and said he had no expectations of being among the select few in the first round, even though he met the criteria.

"Everyone will agree that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Manitoba alone who are deserving and need to get the vaccine," he said.

"I'm very fortunate. I'm now safer for my colleagues and my family. How can it be anything better than that?"

Plett, who works in the intensive care unit at Boundary Trails Health Centre in southern Manitoba, said she had a great sleep last night, knowing this long-awaited day was about to arrive.

"I think I was very lucky to be selected. When I got off the phone after I registered, I seriously did a happy dance in my house. I was just that excited," she said.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister toured the post-vaccination resting area at Health Sciences Centre on Monday, in preparation for Wednesday's rollout of the doses. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

As a front-line worker, she wanted the shot in order to safeguard those she looks after, as well as those she works alongside who aren't among the first recipients of the vaccine.

Plett also has a daughter on dialysis and wants to protect her health.

"It has a lot to do with our livelihood, never mind just our mental health, to be able to eradicate this virus. We need to get rid of it," she said.

Last weekend provincial officials said Manitoba will receive enough doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to immunize around 900 people to start.

The shots will be administered Wednesday through Friday this week to front-line health-care workers who have met specific work and age criteria.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, visited the vaccine clinic on Wednesday to observe "the fantastic work" and greet some of the front-line health workers.

"We've been dealing with this virus for nine months. We're going to have to deal with it for many more months," he said during his daily COVID-19 update later in the afternoon.

"But today we start fighting back."

Brian Sharkey, a family physician who also works in urgent care at Victoria General Hospital, was the third person to get vaccinated on Wednesday. He was asked if he had any concerns about the rapid pace with which the vaccine was developed and approved.

"The scientists who are behind this are far more knowledgeable than I am. I feel the science is very strong and this vaccine is safe and my presence here today is a testament to that feeling," he said.

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

The first shots are being given out at the University of Manitoba's Bannatyne campus, adjacent to Health Sciences Centre. That site was chosen because it has the capacity to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has to be kept at ultra-low temperatures.

The vaccine requires two doses; the second doses will be administered at the RBC Convention Centre site in three weeks, health officials have said. 

'Monumental day'

The convention centre will be used in the coming weeks as a "supersite" for vaccine storage, administration and logistics, Premier Brian Pallister has said.

"Today is a monumental day in Manitoba and a long-awaited day of hope as we begin to deliver the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine nine months after our first positive case in the province," he said in a news release Wednesday.

"Our front-line health-care workers have been stepping up throughout this pandemic and we know that stepping up now to protect them first is the right thing to do, so that we can protect them and the patients they look after.

"I want to express my sincere gratitude to all those involved in our immunization campaign, as well as our health-care system and the immunization task force for its hard work to prepare for this historic challenge."

So far, 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.

Premier Brian Pallister was shown the special -80 degree freezers at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg on Monday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The province plans to establish more vaccination sites in Brandon, Thompson, Steinbach, Gimli, Portage la Prairie and The Pas, which will begin to launch in the new year as more vaccines become available.

Additional doses of vaccine are expected to be delivered to Manitoba later this month and more appointments to be immunized will become available at that time, a news release from the province says.

As details about the type and amount of vaccine are confirmed, the province will provide further updates to Manitobans.

Mobile clinics and other targeted outreach are also being planned as a supply of more easily stored and transported vaccines becomes available, the province said.

Despite the positive steps taken Wednesday, Roussin urged Manitobans to not ease up on their efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19.

He repeated the call for people to only leave their homes for essential reasons and to not gather with anyone outside of their immediate family during Christmas.

"It's a day that's been long awaited. I think we do have that glimmer of hope that we all needed, but we can't let that change our behaviours over the holiday season," he said.

"Stay focused … but now we can stay focused knowing that we have something on the horizon, moving forward."


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Rachel Bergen