The barriers facing rural health-care workers looking for a COVID-19 vaccine
WINNIPEG -- With Manitoba's only vaccine supersites set up in its two largest cities, rural health-care staff must use sick days or vacation time if they want to get the vaccine during work hours.
The union representing some of these workers worries the long trip is pulling priority staff away from the front lines.
All eligible health-care staff in Manitoba who want to roll up their sleeves and get a COVID-19 vaccine have two options – travel to the immunization supersite at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg, or travel to the immunization supersite at the Keystone Centre in Brandon.
While one other supersite is being planned for Thompson, the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU) said there are not enough options.
It said currently health-care staff who are eligible have to make the trip to these two supersites, which could take more than a day in some cases.
Michelle Gawronsky, the president of the MGEU, told CTV News the province needs to remember Manitoba extends beyond the perimeters of Brandon, Thompson and Winnipeg.
"Number one, I don't understand why we are forcing healthcare workers to actually leave the job for any period of time," she said. "The employer is taking them out of the workplace, out of the care that is needed for those in the facilities to be able to get the vaccine."
For the health-care workers who don't want to miss at least a day’s pay, they are required to use their sick days or vacation days for the trip.
“We encourage eligible staff to arrange their vaccine appointment outside of work hours, however, staff can use sick time, vacation or other accrued time if they are required to go during a planned or scheduled shift," a spokesperson for the Southern Health-Santé Sud region told CTV News.
The Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority takes a similar approach. A spokesperson for the region said staff have been advised to make vaccination appointments outside their regular working hours, but if that is not possible they can use medical appointment time or banked time for the trip.
Spokespeople for Prairie Mountain Health Region and the Northern Health Region said their staff follow similar policies, treating the vaccine appointments as any medical appointment – meaning staff can use their sick time, vacation time or accrued time to get the shot.
"This doesn't make much sense to me, because these are those front line health-care heroes – the nurses and health-care professionals – that we want to get the vaccine so that they can take care of us and our loved ones should we get sick," Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew said on Tuesday.
"The government should be removing every possible barrier for these health-care folks to get the vaccine."
CTV News reached out to the province for comment and was directed to contact the regional health authorities.
Gawronsky said she would like to see the province provide more opportunities for eligible health-care staff to get the vaccine in their communities.
"Let's be proactive in a way that is going to ensure that as many people get vaccinated as we possibly can, and let's flatten that curve the best way that we can."