The United States government could give Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine drive a boost if it allowed individual states like North Dakota to begin exporting shots on their own, the province’s premier said Saturday.
Brian Pallister said the U.S. has exported vaccines on a country-to-country basis, but he argued allowing individual states to do so could speed up the process.
Pallister said he has written to U.S. President Joe Biden on the issue, but has not yet received a response.
“The vaccines are sitting in freezers miles away (in North Dakota). We have people here waiting and we need those vaccines up here,” Pallister said Saturday.
North Dakota had asked the White House earlier this year for permission to ship some vaccines to Manitoba for teachers and other school workers, but the request was denied, the premier added.
Pallister’s comments came hours as Manitoba continued to face a harsh third wave of the pandemic.
Health officials reported 476 new COVID-19 cases Saturday — down from a record 603 earlier in the week — and six new deaths linked to the virus.
The percentage of people testing positive, averaged over five days, continued to rise and stood at 14.3 per cent provincially and 16.8 per cent in Winnipeg.
The province’s intensive care units have been pushed to such an extent that some patients are being transferred to hospitals in Ontario.
To address the dire situation, Ottawa agreed to send another 50 contact tracers to Manitoba.
Science Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne shared the news in a tweet on Saturday night.
Pallister had also called Friday for the federal government to send 50 critical care nurses and 20 respiratory therapists to Manitoba, but Champagne did not address that request.
As of Saturday, 48 per cent of Manitobans aged 12 and over had received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to provincial data.
The Opposition New Democrats said Pallister’s rare Saturday news conference was an attempt to divert people’s attention.
“What we see is a premier flailing in a desperate attempt to distract from the failures of his government,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
North Dakota only has some 55,000 doses on hand, Kinew added, so its ability to help Manitobans is limited.
Pallister said all extra vaccines are welcome, especially amid uncertainty over some future supplies. The Public Health Agency of Canada said Friday it is no longer confident it will receive another six-to-eight million doses of the Moderna vaccine next month.
“Your country has more vaccines than it will administer, our country has less vaccines than it needs,” Pallister wrote in his letter to Biden, dated Thursday.
“This is a perfect partnership opportunity to keep our citizens safe, our economies strong, and our borders open as we battle COVID-19 together.”
Biden announced on Monday the U.S. will share an additional 20 million doses with other countries over the next six weeks, although there was no word on how many might come Canada’s way.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press