Steinbach's COVID-19 supersite opening for additional days this month due to 'positive uptake'

For Kyle Penner, the effort to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 in his community is personal. The associate pastor at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach, Man., has seen the devastating effect the illness has had on those around him. 

Provincial spokesperson says Steinbach supersite will be open for 3 additional days in September

A nurse fills a syringe with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in a February file photo. A provincial spokesperson says there has been 'positive uptake in the Steinbach area' for COVID-19 vaccination. (Song Kyung-Seok/Pool Photo via AP)

For Kyle Penner, the effort to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 in his community is personal. 

The associate pastor at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach, Man., has seen the devastating effect the illness caused by the novel coronavirus has had on those around him.

"We all know people who died from COVID here," said Penner.

"I have friends who work in the hospital and they were intubating more people in one shift than they had in their entire life. I have friends who have children who are immunocompromised, and for them it's been a long year and a half of staying at home, trying to protect their children."

That's why as the province braces for a fourth wave of infections, Penner is encouraged to see a slow rise in the number of people in the southeastern Manitoba area getting their first vaccine shot.

"For people to get their first doses now, it's a big step for them," said Penner. "They've obviously had some concerns … so for them to step up and get the dose to protect themselves and protect our hospitals, protect our community, protect our kids, I have nothing but gratitude for them."

Kyle Penner is the associate pastor at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach. (Gabrielle Touchette Photography/Province of Manitoba)

The Steinbach health district is one of the areas in the province that has so far seen lower vaccine uptake

But in an email Thursday, a provincial spokesperson said three additional days have been added for appointments and walk-ins at Steinbach's vaccination supersite in September "in direct response to positive uptake in the Steinbach area." 

With the addition of Sept. 13, 20 and 27, the Steinbach site will open for a total of nine days from Sept. 12 to 30, the province says.

As of Thursday, just over 83 per cent of eligible Manitobans had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. In the Steinbach health district, located in the Southern Health region, that number has gone from 59.8 per cent roughly a month ago to 62.5 per cent as of Thursday.

Dr. Curtis Krahn, a physician who has been practising in the Steinbach area for most of the last 38 years, is among a group of 52 doctors in the region who wrote an open letter encouraging people to get a COVID-19 shot.

He's also engaged in conversations with patients and others about the benefits of getting immunized. 

"I tell stories about the patients that I lost — patients who wanted to live, who were in their 60s and 70s and 80s and had vibrant lives and died very suddenly from COVID-19. It's been devastating for their families," he said.

Steinbach was hit hard by COVID-19 during the province's second wave last year, Krahn said, with his family practice alone losing about a dozen patients who contracted the illness.

He worries about the impact a fourth wave will have on the community.

"We had some very heartbreaking experiences with COVID-19 in our community, and I just see such an opportunity to avoid that with the next wave."

Dr. Curtis Krahn, a physician from Steinbach, Man., is among a group of 52 doctors in the area who wrote an open letter encouraging people to get a COVID-19 shot. (Submitted by Dr. Curtis Krahn)

Through conversations, he's heard patients' concerns about vaccination.

"The thought of it being very new, the thought of it being almost imposed upon people, the pressure to get the vaccine. A lot of people just had a very negative impression of the government's way forward."

But he said people are getting more information about the vaccines from trusted sources, such as family doctors, and he's optimistic the number of people getting immunized will rise.

"We had first thought that we might be under 50 per cent and most of my colleagues were somewhat concerned about that," said Krahn. "The numbers keep creeping up." 

Penner, a member of the province's ProtectMB advisory committee, has also been working to encourage people to get immunized. 

To better understand what's happening in his community, he's been tracking daily vaccination rates in Steinbach. 

He said while in August the demand for vaccines slowed dramatically, he's noticed an uptick in the last two weeks.  He thinks it's linked to the Manitoba government announcing vaccination or regular testing requirements for certain provincial employees, and proof of vaccination requirements for some non-essential businesses, activities and events. 

"That seems to have moved the needle a little bit for people," said Penner. 

Krahn said the mandates allow doctors like him to talk more about the positive reasons to get vaccinated. 

He also thinks it's important to normalize vaccine mandates for people who think they're something new.

"As a physician, I've been dealing with this all my life," he said. "When I went into medical school I had to get vaccinated against many things." 

A provincial spokesperson said while people aren't asked why they're booking an appointment to get the vaccine, the province has noticed "a consistent uptake of appointments following announcements" such as the lottery open to all vaccinated people in the province and changes to public health orders.

"A significant amount of work is being done in southern Manitoba by both religious and community leaders to dispel myths about vaccinations," the province's statement said, reiterating the importance of getting vaccinated.