All Manitobans 12 and up now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

Manitoba health officials are urging young people to get vaccinated as soon as possible after announcing everyone 12 and older is now eligible.

The roughly 111,000 Manitobans age 12-17 qualified for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Friday, the province said.

“We believe this will help us protect even more people, more families, more communities from the third wave of COVID-19,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the provincial task force, during a Friday technical briefing for media.

Pfizer is given out at immunization supersites and urban Indigenous clinics.

Appointments can be scheduled through the province’s online booking portal, or by calling 1-844-626-8222.

Reimer will join Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, for a 12:30 p.m. COVID-19 news conference. CBC News will live stream that update here and on Twitter, Facebook and CBC Gem.

Manitoba is the first province or territory to extend eligibility to those younger than 18, the province said. Officials previously said to expect eligibility to open up to those 12 and up by May 21.

The move comes on the heels of a big bump in vaccine deliveries to the province, with hundreds of thousands more doses anticipated to arrive in the coming weeks, primarily of Pfizer and Moderna.

It’s preferred that those 12 to 15 attend an immunization centre with a parent, guardian or caregiver. A parent can also sign a consent form ahead of time and they can go alone, Reimer said.

Some minors may go to an immunization site without a guardian or consent form. In those cases, they will be able to go through the informed consent form with a medical professional at the clinic, who will assess their ability to consent on their own and decide whether to permit them to be vaccinated, Reimer said.

Reimer also delivered a message aimed at this group.

“When we are immunized, we slow the spread of COVID-19. We protect ourselves and the people around us so that we can get back to the activities and the people we love,” she said.

Pfizer safe: Reimer

The Pfizer vaccine has been tested and found to be safe for older children. There were no safety concerns from trials in minors, Reimer said.

Moderna has run trials and is also expected to apply for emergency use approval for people younger than 18 soon, Reimer said.

If future studies show the vaccine is safe and effective in children under 12, Manitoba would consider expanding eligibility again, Reimer said.

“It depends on what they discover when they do the trial,” she said, referring to Pfizer plans to provide the vaccine to those six months and up.

Manitobans 18 and up became eligible on Wednesday.

So far, about 49 per cent of Manitoba adults have received at least one dose, the provincial immunization tracker says.

The province is still deciding whether to lump in vaccination numbers of those 12-17 with overall tracking on the provincial immunization dashboard, or whether to offer a separate tracker for minors, Reimer said.

Mixing and matching

Reimer also addressed preliminary findings from a study in the U.K. out Wednesday on mixing and matching Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is an mRNA-based product, and AstraZeneca-Oxford, which uses a viral vector technology.

Mixing may come with a higher rate of mild or moderate side-effects, including fatigue, headache or a fever, the report suggests. That could also hint at something that might sound counterintuitive to most people.

“While it sounds like a bad thing, [it’s] probably good news, but not definitively,” Reimer said.

Echoing other experts on the topic, she said the higher rate of mild side-effects could signal the development of a better immune response. Followup monitoring of participants of the U.K. study will be necessary to draw more firm conclusions, Reimer said.

Manitoba and at least five other provinces this week announced plans to limit or end use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The majority of Manitoba’s doses will now be reserved for second-dose appointments for those who have already received one dose of AstraZeneca, but the vaccine team hasn’t ruled out giving some a second dose of some other vaccine.

The decision to pause first doses was made primarily because of AstraZeneca supply issues but also in light of Ontario’s findings regarding rare blood clots associated with the vaccine, Reimer said.

The risk of clotting associated with AstraZeneca, known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT), is around 1 in 100,000. There have been 28 confirmed cases in Canada, including four deaths. The condition is treatable.

Reimer said the benefits of AstraZeneca still outweigh the risk of COVID-19.

“You did the right thing,” she said Wednesday to those who got a dose of that vaccine.

“You provided yourself and your families with protection as early as you possibly could, so we thank you.”