Manitoba hiring more staff to reduce long waits at Winnipeg COVID-19 vaccine site
Some people have waited up to 2 hours at RBC Convention Centre supersite
Manitoba is hiring more staff to help people navigate its COVID-19 vaccine supersite in Winnipeg after some waited up to two hours to get their shots there last week, says the operations lead of the province's vaccine implementation task force.
The staffing issues that led to those wait times should be fixed by April 6 as the province hires more than 100 temporary navigators who are set to start as early as next week, task force operations lead Johanu Botha said on Wednesday.
"We will keep making this process smoother for our clients and better for staff," Botha said at a news conference. "It's a complex machine and we will make it hum."
Botha said one of the workforce issues was that many of the people signed up to work as navigators were casual employees, including post-secondary students who aren't taking shifts during exams.
In recent days, City of Winnipeg employees were tapped to help run the vaccine clinic at the RBC Convention Centre. Botha said the issues that led to bottlenecks have been resolved, which people outside the supersite clinic on Wednesday afternoon confirmed.
"It was perfect. Lots of staff, lots of help and right on time," Jan Adamache said after getting her shot, a process that took about a half hour from start to finish.
However, that wasn't the case on Tuesday night for Kevin Miller who waited more than two hours to get his jab. Miller said he thinks the site needed more immunizers, since the process moved at a glacial pace right up until he got the shot.
"Normally when I see a bottleneck, I expect to have free sailing on the other side of it. Here, there was never any free sailing," he said.
On Wednesday, Botha apologized to people who were left waiting for hours to get their shots at the massive site, which now has two floors and hundreds of staff rolling out vaccine to thousands every day.
He said people running vaccine clinics are constantly working to improve flow as the province works out kinks with its accelerated vaccine pilot project — a model in which people sit in rows of chairs as immunizers circulate with a cart and give people their shots.
That plan was detailed last week and is expected to increase the number of immunizations per worker to 60 injections an hour from the current rate of six to eight per hour.
The model has proven to be extremely sensitive to even the smallest adjustments, he said, such as staff trying to improve lines by rearranging them, or vaccine doses not being pre-drawn and ready.
"Those are little things in the previous model. In this model, there are massive backlogs because people are expected to keep moving through the system," Botha said.
He also noted that while bottlenecks at clinics have sometimes caused long wait times, everyone who showed up and waited at the Winnipeg site ended up getting it.
Botha urged people not to show up early for vaccine appointments, which slows things down even more.
More details needed on AstraZeneca concerns: official
The medical lead of Manitoba's vaccine implementation task force said the province is waiting for more details to emerge about what conditions are linked to rare blood clots in some European women under 55 who got the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Joss Reimer's comments at Wednesday's news conference came two days after Manitoba announced it's limiting its rollout of that vaccine to people between age 55 and 64.
Before that, the eligibility list included First Nations people as young as 30 who have certain health conditions and pregnant people age 35 and up (or even younger if they have certain conditions). Other Manitobans as young as 50 with certain conditions were also eligible.
The shift followed a recommendation from Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).
"If we can determine what risk factors truly did elevate the risk for individuals, we would be able to re-open up the younger age population eligibility and have those clear caveats in place," either recommending against the shot for some people or giving them information about the risks and benefits of getting it, Reimer said.
She said while many medications have a high risk of side effects, even the rarest vaccine side effects are reported because immunizations are so closely monitored.
"That's what is giving us this moment to evaluate these rare encounters that we can't do the same way for any other prescription or over-the-counter medication or herbal product," Reimer said. "I really do believe this is our system working extremely well."
WATCH | Many medications have risk of side effects, Dr. Reimer says:
Manitoba is expecting a massive delivery of AstraZeneca doses by early next week, with just shy of 70,000 doses of that vaccine set to arrive, Botha said earlier Wednesday at a briefing with reporters.
While deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will stay steady at about 40,000 doses a week, Botha said the federal government informed Manitoba that shipments of the Moderna vaccine will be delayed.
One delivery that should have arrived on Monday is now expected to arrive Thursday, while another initially slated to get here on April 5 has now been bumped to sometime the following week — which means it could take until as late as April 16 for the roughly 28,000 doses to arrive.
Those delays are likely to affect the province's schedule for its temporary vaccine clinics in some rural communities, Botha said.
In another development, Manitoba is working out plans to open the remainder of its 13 planned supersites, he said. While few details have been confirmed yet, those clinics are set to open between mid-April and mid-May.
WATCH | Officials' full update on COVID-19 vaccines in Manitoba:
With files from Bartley Kives