'Most important thing is to get it right': Pallister defends slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccine in Manitoba

Premier Brian Pallister defended the province's slow rollout of the vaccine, saying it is more important to get it right than to be fast, as the province prepares to open its second immunization super-site in Brandon.

As of Wednesday, 12,409 doses of the vaccine have been administered, with 1,660 of those being second doses. The majority of Manitoba's vaccine rollout has been based in Winnipeg, which has seen 75 per cent of those doses.

Manitoba's second COVID-19 immunization super-site, which is based in the Keystone Centre in Brandon, is set to open on Jan. 18 with plans to vaccinate 4,100 priority health-care workers in the first week.

During a tour of the facility on Wednesday, Pallister said by the end of the month only one per cent of Manitobans will be vaccinated.

He said it is important to roll out the vaccine safely rather than quickly.

"We're not going to fail to have hiccups, but we're not going to fail to address them," Pallister said. "The most important thing isn't to get it fast. The most important thing is to get it right."

While it has been a slow start, Manitoba's COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce said if the federal government provided more doses to the province, the vaccine program could be ramped up substantially.

READ MORE: Province could vaccinate all Manitobans by end of April if Feds provide enough doses: Taskforce

The federal government announced on Tuesday that it has secured another 20 million doses of the Pfizer shot for Canada. Pallister said the province needs to be ready if the federal government does dole out more doses.

The province has hired 1,071 people to work at vaccination sites in both Winnipeg and Brandon.

OPPOSITION PARTIES CALL FOR MORE DETAILS ON VACCINE PLAN

Manitoba's opposition parties said more details are needed about Manitoba's vaccine rollout plan.

Manitoba Liberals called the rollout a failure of leadership, saying Manitoba is among the slowest provinces in Canada to distribute its allotment of the vaccine.

"The reasons for this failure are clear: there is no vaccine plan. We need one, and we needed it six months ago," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said in a statement.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said more information is needed on Manitoba's vaccine plan.

"When are doctors' offices and pharmacies going to be allowed to help us achieve our vaccination targets?" he asked adding this could be one way to address vaccine hesitancy.

"We want to see more details across the board when it comes to the vaccine rollout."

PROVINCE EXPANDING VACCINE SITES IN PREPARATION FOR MORE DOSES

Pallister said a third vaccination super-site is opening at the Thompson airport on Feb.1. He said other sites are planned as more vaccine doses become available.

Dr. Joss Reimer, who is a medical officer of health and part of the COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce, said part of Manitoba's expansion could include using mobile and pop-up sites to reach more remote areas in the province, which would depend on Canada's ability to secure more stable vaccines, such as the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine does not require the same storage requirement such as the Pfizer vaccine, but it has not yet been approved for use in Canada.

So far, Manitoba has received 28,080 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and the province has an inventory of 15,402 doses from Pfizer.

Of the Moderna vaccine, 7,300 doses total have been distributed to personal care homes and First Nations communities in the province.

The eligibility criteria now includes staff who work at congregate group care settings and provide direct care to residents. The age limit has also been removed for health-care workers who work in emergency and urgent care departments.

NO PLANS TO EXTEND WAIT TIME BETWEEN VACCINE DOSES

Currently, the wait time between the first and second doses of the vaccine is three weeks, though the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said provinces could push the wait time to 42 days depending on logistics or local epidemiology.

Reimer said after reviewing the NACI statement, Manitoba has no plans to change its current wait time.

"For the time being, based on the lack of evidence and the lack of data that is available on moving outside of the manufacturer's recommendations we are going to stay with the 21 days or the 28 days depending on the product," she said.

Reimer said added the situation could change depending on the data and information that comes in.