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Manitoba Vaccine Phone Line Overwhelmed by People Not Qualified for First Batch

December 14, 2020 3:27 PM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus Vaccine

Tamara Dus, left, director of University Health Network Safety Services, administers the first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Canada to personal support worker Anita Quidangen in Toronto on December 14. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

WINNIPEG — It appears some Manitobans have been lying in an attempt to get access to the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines this week.

The government recently set up a telephone line to register for the vaccine and sent the phone number to health-care workers. The idea was to get 900 high-priority workers — older ones who work in critical care and long-term care homes — to book appointments that are to start Wednesday.

The phone number got out to the general public on the weekend, and more than 100,000 calls flooded in. Some people were dishonest in answering automated screening questions, and were later sent away by live operators in charge of booking appointments, said chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

“There’s initial screening questions with a keypad that many people weren’t being fully forthcoming with, and still getting to an operator, and so that tied up a lot of time,” Roussin said.

“The actual time per screener per (booked) appointment was quite long — over two hours — because they were requiring to go through so many people to even get to one person who was qualified.”

By Monday afternoon, about two-thirds of the 900 estimated qualified workers had appointments. Roussin said the weekend deluge of calls would not cause a delay in vaccinations, but will be a learning experience for the next round of shots as more shipments arrive.

“We know that for the coming months, demand for this vaccine is going to be much higher than supply.”

Health officials reported 241 new COVID-19 cases Monday and nine additional deaths.

Manitoba’s daily number of new cases has been trending downward in recent weeks after the provincial government imposed tight restrictions on public gatherings and business openings. The percentage of people testing positive has remained high at more than 13 per cent, however, and usage of intensive care beds was 54 per cent above normal.

“It’s a complex virus (in terms of) the impact on people. They require a lot of work and a long length of stay,” said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer with Manitoba Shared Health.

“It is absolutely taxing on the health-care system and our staff.”

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