More pop-up vaccination clinics have been announced throughout Manitoba - including more clinics in Flin Flon - but Flin Flonners booking appointments at the sites have experienced delays and confusion with the vaccine rollout.
The next set of Manitoba clinics was announced by provincial public health officials March 26, the date of the second pop-up clinic to be held in Flin Flon. Included in the list was one other date for a pop-up clinic in Flin Flon, the third of its kind, which will take place April 9 at the Flin Flon Community Hall from 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Pop-up clinics provide doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to smaller communities away from the province's main vaccine "supersites" in Winnipeg, Brandon, Thompson, Selkirk and Morden.
Following the province’s March 26 announcement, news broke of other pop-up clinics scheduled in Flin Flon that were not included in the province’s initial announcement. Instead of only having one day of pop-up clinics in the near future, a different schedule posted on the provincial government’s website showed two more clinics would soon be held. According to the provincial website, another clinic, the fourth to be held in Flin Flon, would take place April 13, along with a fifth running for three consecutive days from April 14-16. Both additional clinics would take place at the Flin Flon Community Hall from 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. - the same location and hours as previous clinics at the site.
Immunization clinics were announced in several Manitoba communities March 26, but only three clinics were initially confirmed in northern Manitoba by provincial officials. In addition to the clinic in Flin Flon, two further clinics were announced in The Pas at the Roy H. Johnston Arena. Those two clinics will take place April 7 and 14, both from 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Other clinics will be announced in the near future, according to a provincial government news release. No further clinics were announced in The Pas following the March 26 release.
"Additional pop-up sites and appointments will also be opening up, beginning the week of April 21 and more will be announced in the coming weeks," reads the release.
Meanwhile, doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to be available throughout this week for Saskatchewan residents only at the Creighton Provincial Building. Saskatchewan began vaccinating people living in communities in Saskatchewan weeks before the first doses ever were made available in Flin Flon. As of April 1, all northern Saskatchewan residents age 50 and over can register for their first dose.
While further clinics have been announced in Flin Flon and eligibility criteria expands, some Flin Flonners have been left in the dark or unable to register for their shots.
Accounts from people attempting to register have reported long delays or a lack of spots available for clinics in Flin Flon. Some Flin Flonners have scheduled appointments in The Pas instead of in Flin Flon, due to a lack of open spots at the Flin Flon site.
Randy Whitbread, a Flin Flonner eligible to receive his vaccine, said he had called the provincial vaccination hotline 10 times before being able to book an appointment April 16. Whitbread had already booked then cancelled an appointment in The Pas, thinking it was his only available option.
“It’s a total clusterf***,” said Whitbread.
He added that news of the fourth and fifth clinics appeared to have not reached the operators on the provincial hotline - when he asked about it, an operator appeared to not know those clinics had been scheduled.
“First, they told me there were no clinics in Flin Flon scheduled at all. I told the guy that he better look again, because even the phone message you get when you call mentions [a clinic] in Flin Flon. Then they said, “Oh yeah there is, but they are all booked.’ I asked, ‘All five days? The web site lists five days.’ Again, arguing that I was wrong, refused to look. When I told them I live with someone immunocompromised because of chemo, they offered me a spot in the Interlake.”
On call number 10, Whitbread finally was able to book a local appointment.
“I finally got someone that said, ‘Yeah, there’s quite a few appointments available for April 16 in Flin Flon.’ She said she had got quite a few people saying that they had called a dozen times and couldn’t say why other operators were saying nothing was available,” he said.
The Reminder has received other reports from Flin Flon residents who experienced difficulties with booking their shots, but who did not consent to be mentioned in a story for fear their appointments may be cancelled.
The Reminder reached out to a spokesperson for the provincial government’s vaccination effort, who said response from Flin Flon had been “overwhelming”.
“Nearly 300 appointments were filled within hours,” said the spokesperson 26, hours after the third pop-up clinic was publicly announced.
The spokesperson also confirmed the province plans to continue hosting pop-up clinics in Flin Flon.
“There are plans to return to Flin Flon. [An] announcement will be made in coming weeks,” they said.
“We continually expand out pop-up site locations within rural Manitoba.”
Delays and difficulties in booking appointments were so widespread that Flin Flon Mayor Cal Huntley released a statement on the matter late on March 26, adding clarifications - that more pop-up clinics would be held, that appointments could only be made through the provincial hotline and all current rules will still apply. Huntley, who also serves as the board chair of the Northern Health Region (NHR), said he had received positive feedback about the vaccination effort, aside from the news of delays.
“I’m please to say that so far, these temporary vaccination sites have been a great success with the only frustration being around registering and getting a confirmed appointment. As more of the vaccines become available, you will see more and more pop-ups happening locally,” Huntley said.
Smaller northern communities that have already taken part in the Thompson-based "Vaxport" program - involving flying or otherwise transporting people to the Thompson Airport to receive their doses - will have a chance for residents to receive a second dose by mid-April, according to government officials.
People eligible for vaccines in Manitoba currently include, as of April 1, people ages 64 or older and First Nations people ages 44 or older, along with priority groups including health and frontline workers who don’t meet the age limit. Doses of the AstraZeneca-COVISHIELD vaccine are also available for all Manitobans ages 55-64 after a March 29 change.