Seniors growing frustrated over vaccine blackout

·2 min read

Pressure is mounting on Newfoundland and Labrador health officials to release something — anything — that resembles a plan for rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine in the community once supplies start to pick up.

Health Minister Dr. John Haggie fielded a flurry of questions from reporters Monday about why the province has offered no timeline beyond the oft-repeated priorities of frontline health-care workers and seniors in congregate living.

The tone of queries online and directly to The Telegram from seniors and others has grown increasingly frustrated as clarification has not been forthcoming.

One seasonal Newfoundland resident says Ontario vaccine czar Rick Hillier has been more than forthcoming about the plan for community vaccinations.

In Nova Scotia, tips on booking a vaccine appointment have already been sent to seniors in the community.

“People in Newfoundland and Labrador deserve better from these officials,” the resident wrote in an email.

“Enough with this usual ‘we’re working on it’ reply when these questions are raised.”

Haggie said he has been inundated with requests for a timeline, but with not enough vaccines in the near future to finish the initial priority groups, he’s not making any commitments beyond that.

“If I did it today, in the hopes of settling down and reassuring people, the only thing I can guarantee you is that the date I gave you would be wrong,” he told reporters.

“We simply cannot give what we do not have, so we have to give it to those at greatest risk as the numbers allow with delivery.”

Pfizer slowed its deliveries in January because of upgrades to its manufacturing plant in Belgium, but supplies have started to pick up again. Haggie said the province is expecting six trays — about 6,000 doses — this week, and the same number next week.

The company has promised to significantly boost its shipments over the next few months to make up for delays, but Haggie said the province only ever gets firm commitments biweekly.

Because they have to give double doses to about 9,200 frontline health-care staff and about 4,000 people in long-term care — plus more residents in private care — none of the imminent shipments can be earmarked for the community yet, Haggie said.

It would only make matters worse to raise expectations prematurely by sending out a speculative timeline, he said.

But, he said, they are poised to do so immediately upon learning they have the supply to do so.

“As the summer comes and the spring leaves us, we should be in a different situation because my understanding is at that point, both Pfizer and Moderna will have ramped up their production beyond expected levels, and in addition to that, there is talk of Astrazeneca, there’s talk of Johnson and Johnson, and there’s talk of Novavax making an appearance,” he said.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram