‘An important milestone’: 70% of Manitoba adults have 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Manitoba has hit a pandemic target of vaccinating 70 per cent of people over age 18 with at least one dose in its effort to shut down COVID-19.

“Today, we have reached another important milestone,” Johanu Botha, operations lead of the province’s vaccine implementation task force, said Wednesday.

The percentage of the population age 12 and up is not far behind, he added. According to the province’s vaccination dashboard, that rate sits at just over 67 per cent.

“Vaccine numbers continue to rise and that is something that I personally, and I know that everyone on our team, is thrilled to see. It has been nothing short of a Herculean effort over the last few months to get to this point.”

The province also announced eligibility for second doses of  COVID-19 vaccines was expanded on Wednesday to those who received their first shot on or before May 4.

Nearly 90,000 doses will be administered this week, followed by another 83,000, Botha said, although those numbers could change depending on supply from the federal government.

Manitoba is expecting delivery of 3,500 doses of Moderna this week after two weeks of no shipments of that vaccine. The province is also expecting 87,750 doses of Pfizer and has already received 7,500 doses of AstraZeneca.

The latter was requested even though Botha and Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the vaccine implementation task force, told the federal government last week not to send any more AstraZeneca because of concerns with that vaccine.

It was decided that mRNA vaccines are superior and could provide better protection as a second dose for those who first received AstraZeneca.

The province decided to store the remaining 1,872 AstraZeneca doses for patients who may not be able to get an mRNA vaccine for medical reasons, including serious allergies.

“But the situation has changed, as it so often does in the vaccine rollout, and so we needed to respond,” Botha said Wednesday, noting a number of people expressed a strong preference for AstraZeneca as a second dose.

“Our job is to make sure that we have the vaccines we need, when we need them.”

The doses will be strategically distributed them across the province based on public demand, he added.

Botha and Reimer are still recommending Pfizer or Moderna as a second dose for those who were given AstraZeneca as a first dose, however.

Reimer cited a new German study that suggests a mix of AstraZeneca and an mRNA vaccine is more effective than two AstraZeneca doses.

Some of the additional AstraZeneca will be held as a backup in case someone can’t get an mRNA shot due to limited supplies or limited access to a clinic where Pfizer or Moderna is available.

Manitoba had set a goal of administering first doses to at least 70 per cent of eligible people but Premier Brian Pallister has said he wants to see it closer to 90 per cent.

To that end, Manitoba has started offering incentives, as well as privileges to those who are fully-vaccinated.

On Wednesday, Pallister, alongside Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries president and CEO Manny Atwal, announced nearly $2M in lottery prizes for people who get vaccinated.

Anyone who has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Aug. 2 and two by Sept. 6 will automatically be eligible for the prizes. 

Those age 12 to 17 can win scholarships, while adults are eligible for cash prizes. 

Pallister was asked what he has to say to those who the lottery overlooks, such as people who would like to get a vaccine but can’t due to certain health issues. 

“There’s very, very few of those people I’m told,” he said.

On Tuesday, he also announced the implementation of immunization cards for fully vaccinated people two weeks after they’ve received their second dose.

It will permit them to travel within Canada without having to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return to Manitoba.

Provincial restrictions currently require every visitor or resident entering Manitoba to isolate for two weeks upon arrival. Those orders have been in place in one form or another since April 2020.

Manitoba health-care facilities, including hospitals and personal care homes, will also permit expanded visitation if both the patient or resident and the visitor are fully vaccinated, and additional benefits will be announced in the coming weeks, Pallister said.

The province is also attempting to reach out to those who are vaccine hesitant or for whom travel to vaccine supersites has been a barrier to immunization.

Mobile outreach vans, house calls and community-hosted clinics are being launched while $1 million has been made available for grants.

Organizations can access up to $20,000 each if they can prove they have the ability to reach vaccine hesitant people and increase uptake.