Monkeypox Vaccine Launch Suspended, Province Silent on Cause

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Just hours after its launch, the province’s monkeypox vaccination appointments were suspended without explanation, leaving some Manitobanese at risk wondering when they will be immunized.

The provincial government had no response Tuesday to explain why no more appointments are available, less than a day after eligibility for the Imvamune vaccine was extended.

A provincial spokesman said only that more information is expected to be announced later this week. It is unclear whether the sudden halt in implementation is due to a limited supply of vaccine, a lack of staff to administer it, or something else.

The province did not respond when asked how many appointments had been booked or how many doses were available. On Monday afternoon, the provincial government issued a tweet indicating that all available vaccination slots were already reserved.

“We hope to have more available soon and an update will be shared at that time,” the tweet reads. The province announced Friday that eligibility would be expanded starting Monday to men who have sex with men and meet certain other criteria. Gay and bisexual men are at the highest risk of becoming infected with monkeypox, although no cases have been confirmed in Manitoba so far.

Will Franklin doesn’t use Twitter, so Winnipegger was surprised when he tried to book his appointment online Tuesday at 7 a.m. be offering it. Thinking it was a technical problem, Franklin called Health Links.

He spoke to someone who couldn’t give him any information about supply, staffing levels, or when more appointments would open. She asked if he could be notified when times are available and was told no. Instead, she was advised to keep checking the website every 30 minutes.

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Will Franklin tried to schedule an appointment for the monkeypox vaccine first thing Tuesday morning, only to be told that no more appointments were available.

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Will Franklin tried to schedule an appointment for the monkeypox vaccine first thing Tuesday morning, only to be told that no more appointments were available.

“It was very frustrating,” Franklin said, adding that she wondered why the province announced increased eligibility if appointments were so limited. The online process was tedious to check availability at all three clinics, she said. The reservation opened Monday morning for appointments at Klinic Community Health, Access Winnipeg West and Our Own Health Centre.

“I don’t think it’s set up right, but we just want to try and get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

As someone involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy in the 1980s, Franklin said getting vaccinated as soon as possible is particularly important to him. He was offered a hepatitis B vaccine back then, before it was widely available, but he turned it down.

“I thought, I’m a healthy guy, you know, I don’t need it. And here I ended up with hepatitis B and was on my back for six weeks,” he said. “That’s why I said, ‘Okay, they’re offering this, why shouldn’t I get it and then not have to go through anything if (monkeypox is) more prevalent in the community here?”

“I thought, I’m a healthy guy, you know, I don’t need it. And here I ended up with hepatitis B and was on my back for six weeks.” — Will Franklin

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Tuesday that a health center reported to his office that there were only about 140 doses allocated to the Winnipeg area. He called on the government to implement a “well-oiled” vaccine and paid sick days campaign that puts lessons learned from COVID-19 into practice before monkeypox starts to spread here.

“We have a window of opportunity right now to act. If there are not enough vaccines, they should tell people too, but public health and the PC government should talk to people about how to prevent it,” Lamont said.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Tuesday that a health center reported to his office that there were only about 140 doses allocated to the Winnipeg area.”>

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Tuesday that a health center reported to his office that there were only about 140 doses allocated to the Winnipeg area.

Monkeypox is spread primarily through direct physical contact and can cause rashes and flu-like symptoms. Canadian public health advice on how to avoid it involves avoiding close contact, including sex, with people who may have been exposed, maintaining good hygiene, and staying home when sick.

The monkeypox outbreak has been declared a global health threat by the World Health Organization. More than 950 cases have been recorded in Canada, including two cases in Saskatchewan in July and several hundred in Ontario.

Manitoba received a supply of the vaccine in June, but eligibility was restricted to people who had been exposed to the virus. The province has repeatedly refused to answer questions about its supply, instead repeating its message that more information will be forthcoming soon.

katie.may@winnipegfreepress.com

katie may

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