Manitoba vax-a-thon opens supersites for one-day walk-in event

Hours before the doors were set to open Wednesday, about 75 people waited in line outside the vaccination supersite at Winnipeg's RBC Convention Centre to get their COVID-19 shot.

20,000 doses of vaccine available for 1-day vaccination push

People line up outside Winnipeg's RBC Convention Centre on the morning of Wednesday, July 14, 2021, to get their shots during the one-day 'vax-a-thon' in Manitoba. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Hours before the doors were set to open Wednesday, about 75 people waited in line outside of the vaccination supersite at Winnipeg's RBC Convention Centre to get their COVID-19 shot.

Annalynn Czarnecki, the first in line, arrived at 5:45 a.m. — three hours early — for the one-day vax-a-thon, when all nine of Manitoba's supersites are open for walk-ins only in an attempt to spur vaccine uptake.

Czarnecki, who has both of her shots, brought her daughter Kayla, 15, and three of Kayla's friends to get their second doses and try to resume some semblance of normal life after 16 months of the pandemic.

"To have a summer and make some plans, it'll be good," Czarnecki said.

"I like the idea of lots of Pfizer doses being [available] for the teenagers to try and get everybody's doses."

Madison Dueck, left, Annalynn Czarnecki, centre, and Kayla Czarnecki wait for the RBC Convention Centre supersite to open on Wednesday. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of the province's vaccination task force, said 20,000 doses were set aside for Wednesday's vaccination push, including 8,000 doses of Pfizer, which is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved in Canada for people 12 to 17 years old.

However, Pfizer is being offered on Wednesday to adults as well as those 12-17, Reimer said at a news conference at the RBC Convention Centre in the afternoon.

There are 10 supersites in the province, two in Winnipeg and one each in Brandon, Thompson, Selkirk, Morden, Dauphin, Steinbach, Gimli and The Pas.

Most will be open until 6 p.m. but some will offer doses until 8 p.m. 

"If you want a dose, we have one for you," said Johanu Botha, operations lead of the task force. "We are so close to reaching our next vaccine milestone, but we can't do it without you."

Vaccination rates level off

The province has a target of getting at least 80 per cent of Manitobans age 12 and up a first dose and at least 75 per cent a second by Labour Day.

As of Wednesday, 76.7 per cent of eligible Manitobans have had at least one dose and 58.5 per cent have had two doses, according to the province's vaccination dashboard.

That means Manitoba has already passed the vaccination goals initially set for the August long weekend. The province has said an announcement about the next reopening steps is coming on Wednesday, with a news conference set for 2 p.m.

But the rate at which people are going for doses is starting to level out, which is why the province hopes the vax-a-thon provides a boost to the numbers.

"I think, at this point, we've reached most of the people who are really eager and looking forward to getting a dose, and signed up as quickly as possible," Reimer said.

"Now it's the more difficult work of reaching people who face barriers, of reaching people who have questions, or even just those who haven't prioritized it and have other things on their to-do list."

WATCH | Dr. Reimer on reaching Manitobans though the vax-a-thon:

Manitoba holds 'vax-a-thon' to spur vaccine uptake

2 years ago
Duration 3:58
With enthusiasm slipping around COVID-19 vaccinations, Manitoba is trying to make it easier for holdouts to get their shots. The province has opened large walk-in clinics today for anyone who is eligible to get either a first or second dose. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Botha said maybe "summer vibes" have kicked in, referring to the slower pace that typically marks the vacation months, but he remains confident the targets will be met.

"We're not worried about that yet," he said.

"But the only way we can get needles into arms is when the arms arrive for immunizations and at this stage of the game, we can only go as fast as Manitobans are willing to be vaccinated."

He did not have numbers at 1 p.m. for how many vaccines had been distributed to that point on Wednesday.

"What we've seen is a promising start, but it's early in the day and it's certainly not at a point where we want to tap ourselves on the back," he said.

Some sites, such as Morden, opened several hours after the Winnipeg sites and expected most of their doses to be doled out later in the day.

"We're hoping for Manitobans to show up," Botha said.

Clinics at provincial parks

Over the next few weeks, a number of vaccine pop-up clinics will happen at provincial parks. Teams will be set up in high-traffic areas, such as around concession stands or near beaches, Botha said.

The first ones will be at Childs Lake in Duck Mountain Provincial Park and Asessippi Provincial Park on Friday, and at Spruce Woods Provincial Park on Saturday.

Reimer underscored the importance of getting a vaccine and getting the full coverage of two doses, saying the task force has heard about people possibly choosing not to get immunized because they had a COVID infection and recovered.

"We still recommend that you get the vaccine. We don't know how strong your immunity is; we don't know, for example, if a natural immunity will protect from the variants that may be circulating," she said.

"And we don't know exactly how long immunity lasts after a natural infection."

Data from the vaccines is solid, she said, and two doses provide extensive protection from severe illness with all variants, including the highly contagious delta variant.

"So if you've had COVID, it's possible you are protected, but we truly don't know to what extent," Reimer said.

Pfizer for ages 5-11

Pfizer has been studying its vaccine for use in children as young six months old and could have the first results for the 5-11 age group in September, Reimer said, and it's possible the vaccines could be given to those children as soon as October.

Madison Dueck, 14, who was part of the group of teens Czarnecki took to the RBC supersite on Wednesday, said she didn't mind waking up early because it will all be worth it. 

"I'm excited to be double vaxxed … but it's also a fun experience just to wake up early with my friends and come stand in line and wait. It's just a memory that I'm going to look back to when I'm older," she said.

Dueck is looking forward to eating inside a restaurant with friends and having a normal school year again.

"Going to school half-time, it's been really crazy. My first year going into Grade 9, it was like completely different than I imagined how it would be."

Abrar Abdelmahmoud, left, Kawser Ali, centre, and Ahmed Abdelmahmoud arrived at 6 a.m. for the RBC supersite vax-a-thon. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Kawser Ali, her daughter Abrar Abdelmahmoud and son Ahmed Abdelmahmoud showed up at the RBC supersite at 6 a.m.

"I never wake up this early. Never. I was surprised I actually woke up to my alarm," 19-year-old Abrar said with a laugh.

"We just wanted to make sure that we're here early. I just want, like, things to go back to normal, so if the vaccine helps, I think that's a good thing."

Ali said she jumped at the chance to get her second shot earlier than her booked date, July 30.

"When I heard there is a walk-in clinic for the vaccine, especially Pfizer, I was so excited to come and get it," she said.

"I think it is very important just to take the vaccine to be safe and to make everyone around you safe."

Ahmed, 15, said he is looking forward to getting the vaccination card in two weeks and being able to enjoy the expanded freedoms given to fully vaccinated people. He's hopeful it will open doors to join some club activities and take part in school plays once again.

"We just wanted to come earlier and get the second dose as quick as possible so we can do everything that we can." 

Appointments for vaccination after Wednesday can be made on the province's website or by calling 1-844-626-8222.

People who want to be entered in the vaccine lottery draw — for a chance to win scholarships or cash prizes — must have their first immunization on or before Aug. 2.


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