Vaccine delays mean 1,000 fewer doses per day in February, Manitoba health officials say
Province will run out of Pfizer-BioNTech doses by Feb. 7, if no other shipments arrive before then
The delay in deliveries of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses means Manitoba will vaccinate around 1,000 fewer people per day in February than originally planned.
Manitoba health officials said last week they expected to administer an average of 2,500 doses per day in February. That number has now been reduced to just under 1,500 doses per day.
Based on current projections, Manitoba will run out of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by Feb. 7, if no other shipments arrive before then.
The federal government has told Manitoba that next week's shipment won't arrive, but no other information about future shipments, said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical officer of health for Manitoba Health and a member of the vaccine implementation task force.
"We are talking to the federal government every day. So far, they haven't given us any final numbers. They just told us that the future shipments are being looked at," she said.
Manitoba expects to receive roughly 29,000 fewer vaccine doses over a four-week period, starting Jan. 25.
In the long term, however, the delay will have negligible impact on the province's plans to immunize 70 per cent of Manitoba's adult population by the end of the year, members of Manitoba vaccine implementation task force told reporters in a technical briefing on Wednesday.
The slowdown comes after Pfizer said last week it is temporarily pausing some production lines at its facility in Puurs, Belgium, aiming to expand its vaccine manufacturing capacity in the long term.
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Manitoba health officials had hoped to release more information this week on the timeline for expanding vaccine eligibility, and on when vaccination hubs would start setting up in communities outside of major urban centres.
The delay in Pfizer-BioNTech deliveries "threw a wrench" into those plans, Reimer said.
The province hopes to release more information about the order in which different groups will become eligible, without specific timelines, in the coming days.
Thompson site will use Moderna vaccine
The vaccine delay forced the province to scale back its plans for the opening of a new vaccination supersite at the Keystone Centre in Brandon, and to delay the opening of another site at the airport in Thompson.
The opening of a smaller temporary site in downtown Thompson will go ahead on Feb. 1.
Instead of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, however, the site will be stocked with doses of the Moderna vaccine, "to ensure that we do get doses to that area, particularly in response to the higher numbers we're seeing in the northern regional health authority," Reimer said.
Once pop-up vaccination sites start appearing in remote communities, they will stay until the entire adult population is immunized, without relying on a priority list, so immunization teams don't need to return to remote communities multiple times.
Failure to plan, lack of transparency: critics
The province has hired a director to oversee the province's immunization program, health officials confirmed Wednesday, without saying who they had hired.
The former executive director of Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization says the fact the province didn't have the position filled earlier "is not instilling any confidence."
With Manitoba now more than 10 months into the pandemic, "somebody try to explain to me why we didn't think we needed a vaccine co-ordinator some where along the line, a lot sooner than this," said Chuck Sanderson.
The province should be more open with Manitobans about how the rest of the vaccine rollout will progress, Sanderson said Wednesday in an interview with CBC News.
"Everybody has to know what their place is in the plan."
Leaders of both the Manitoba NDP and Liberals criticized the government for failing to plan far enough in advance to quickly rollout the vaccine, despite the uncertainty around shipments.
"All of the logistical work could have been done in advance, months ago," said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
Part of the difficulty in planning the rollout of the vaccine is because back in the fall, health officials didn't know which vaccines would be approved and in what quantities, Reimer said.
At the same time it was reviewing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Health Canada was considering approving a vaccine from AstraZeneca, which has far less onerous storage requirements than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, Reimer said.
"Most doctors' offices and pharmacies don't have freezers to be able to manage the Moderna and Pfizer products, but they do have fridges that are monitored and that could manage something like AstraZeneca."
An online dashboard with daily data on the vaccine rollout in Manitoba launched Tuesday, with information on how many doses have been received and administered, as well as demographic details on who has received the vaccine.
Having a dashboard with information on vaccinations the government has already done is "not that helpful," said Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.
"Who gets the vaccine is the single most important question, and what order people are going to get it in," he said.
With files from Erin Brohman