The President of the Manitoba Nurses Union says nurses literally do not have the time to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

One year ago nurses were the recipient of province-wide praise for their long days on the front lines. Now, those long days are keeping them from getting the COVID-19 vaccine under the current vaccination appointment system.

"What I am hearing is the workload in these facilities is absolutely crushing. These nurses are working with workloads that they have never seen before," Darlene Jackson President of the Manitoba Nurses Union says. "Let's say you are working an eight-hour day and you make an appointment for later that day and you get mandated to work an extra shift so now you can't go and get your vaccination."

Now that the banging pots and pans for healthcare workers have stopped it is leaving a deafening silence as nurses are in need of more support. The three factors working against nurses all have to do with time: time away from work, time to travel to a clinic, and time to rest.

darlene jacksonJackson says nurses are facing issues finding time in the current COVID-19 vaccination appointment system to book their shots. (Manitoba Nurses Union/Facebook)

A twofold blow comes when COVID-19 enters a healthcare facility, taking unvaccinated workers off the floor and creating further workload struggles for the remaining nurses. Jackson says this is a workplace safety issue, especially with the new variants of concern, and could spread to the public.

A spokesperson from the province of Manitoba says as of Tuesday 42,000 of the 60,000 healthcare workers in Manitoba have received the COVID-19 vaccine. This population began being vaccinated in December and was expected to have very high uptake. Now, nurses are frustrated with the lack of access, province-wide.

"If nurses and other front-line healthcare workers are not vaccinated and practicing safe, then their patients are not safe. So I think this is a patient care issue as well," she says. "It is in everyone's benefit that these nurses are vaccinated. 

Jackson says she has been told that while there are pop-up sites in places like Selkirk and Steinbach, getting an appointment is "almost impossible."

Dr. Joss Reimer says those booking appointments take into consideration people's personal schedules.

"I think we all have experienced the challenges around trying to book appointments for a variety of different healthcare interventions and so Manitoba, as the vaccine teams, we certainly recognize that by trying to provide people with the flexibility by being open evenings and weekends as well as during the week days to allow for a variety of different schedules to be accommodated," Reimer says. 

reimerReimer is the co-lead of the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force in Manitoba. During a Monday press conference, she said there were no issues balancing personal schedules when making vaccination appointments. (Screenshot: Government of Manitoba/YouTube)

For nurses working around the clock, this is not the case.

"Nurses are finding that when they are trying to make an appointment on their day off," Jackson says. "Because they are not always able to leave work, drive downtown, and drive back to work, sometimes it is difficult to get an appointment on a day that you have off."

Since the early days of the pandemic, she feels that nurses have been on the short end of the stick, facing gruelling hours and insufficient PPE on the front lines. While there is more PPE, shifts continue to drag on with days off few and far between. These long hours mean nurses are left not knowing when they'll be next in line for their vaccines.

Jackson wants better access to vaccines.

"We are having some pop-up sites, which is great in smaller towns, but in some areas, you have to travel two and a half to four hours to go and get your vaccination. So for a nurse, on her day off, that would take an entire day to go and get your vaccination. And you would have to do it twice."

She would like to see more popups with longer hours and teams going to healthcare facilities, just as they did for seniors living in care. This would make it easier for the people in earlier vaccine photo ops to get the shot themselves.

"Go in, vaccinate everyone, so everyone is vaccinated sort of on their own territory and they do not have to go through the stress of having to travel to a supersite."

Jackson says workplaces can support people by bringing in extra staff to relieve workers, allowing them to get the vaccine during the workday.  Overall, she says nurses need their time off to remain their own, not to fight for time to get a COVID-19 vaccine.