Manitoba expands vaccine distribution to fight COVID-19 as cases remain low

WINNIPEG — Manitoba is expanding its capacity to inoculate people against COVID-19 to such an extent that it could provide vaccine to every adult in the province before May — if there are enough doses in the national supply chain.

"With substantial expansion and with the existing (job) applications we've received, we could expand to the point of reaching all Manitobans by the end of April," Dr. Joss Reimer, a member of Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccine committee, said Wednesday.

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It's a theoretical model for now, because vaccine supply is the limiting factor, Reimer said.

The federal government announced earlier this week that it had secured another 20 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses in an effort to increase the flow of approved vaccines, which also includes one from Moderna.

The province plans to open a second so-called vaccine supersite next week in Brandon, where hundreds of doses a day will be able to be injected. One site is already open in Winnipeg and a third is planned for Thompson early next month.

There are also plans for pop-up clinics and more mobile vaccine teams to tend to people in personal care homes in the coming months, Reimer said.

As for staffing, Reimer said 1,071 people have recently been hired to help the 595 existing workers in vaccine distribution.

For now, the province is sticking with its previous estimate of vaccinating 70 per cent of Manitoba's adult population by the end of the year. But that could be sped up if the federal government secures a greater supply of existing vaccines or approves ones from other manufacturers, Reimer said.

Health officials reported an additional 155 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and five deaths. Manitoba's daily case count has trended downward since late November, a few weeks after the government brought in tight restrictions on public gatherings and business openings.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief public health officer, said the numbers are encouraging but there are still areas of concern, including high case numbers in northern communities such as Thompson and Lynn Lake.

"We've had a number of cases ... related to larger households and some spread among households as well, so there's work being done to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus in those communities," Atwal said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2021

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