‘Good trend’ as care home vaccinations continue, but no plans to relax visitor rules: Roussin

Recent numbers on outbreaks and COVID-19 cases in Manitoba personal care homes have shown encouraging signs, but it’s too soon to tell how much of an impact the province’s vaccine campaign has had, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.

“The vaccine is just yet another tool. It’s not going to replace the screening, the fundamentals,” Roussin said during a news conference Monday.

“But overall, just like what we’re seeing, you know, overall with our numbers, we’re seeing a good trend.”

According to the provincial government’s online data portal, there are currently 25 active cases spread across six personal care homes in Manitoba. 

“We saw very good uptake of vaccine in staff and residents, and so we’ve seen, over time, the diminishing amount of cases seen within these facilities,” Roussin said.

It’s too soon to think about loosening restrictions on visitations at long-term care facilities, although that will change over time if trends continue, he said.

The vaccine uptake has “been very good. It’s not 100 per cent. And we know that vaccine effectiveness, like any vaccine, isn’t 100 per cent. So we want to still do what we can to protect the most vulnerable,” Roussin said.

For now, the focus will remain getting vaccinations into the arms of as many Manitobans as possible, in order to achieve widespread immunization among the general population, Roussin said.

Last week, around 4,000 residents of personal care homes got their second dose, and around 1,500 more are expected to get it this week. All personal care home residents are expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of the month. 

Eventually, as more residents get their vaccines, Roussin said the threshold for declaring an outbreak at a personal care home could change, although he did not say how.

Vaccinatons picking up pace

The province is gearing up to expand eligibility for the vaccine, opening it up to the general population for the first time, starting with the oldest Manitobans. Members of the general public over the age of 95, and First Nations people over 75, will become eligible to book appointments this week, although the province has not said when that change will happen.

Last week, immunization teams in the Winnipeg and Prairie Mountain health regions began visiting high-priority congregate living settings, including hospitals, supportive housing facilities and assisted living centres. The province released a list of more than two dozen sites it intended to visit between Feb. 18 and 26. 

Vaccinations in Manitoba are expected to ramp up significantly throughout March along with vaccine shipments, after weeks reduced deliveries due to shortages of supply coming into Canada.

This week, Manitoba is expecting 17,500 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and 6,100 doses of Moderna vaccines.

About 500 doctor’s clinics clinics and pharmacies have applied to administer the vaccine once a suitable candidate that doesn’t require ultra-cold storage — like AstraZeneca — is approved.  

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser said Monday the department is poised to make a decision on whether to authorize AstraZeneca in the coming days.

If it’s approved, that could significantly increase the pace at which Manitobans get the vaccine. Provincial vaccination timelines under a high-supply scenario depended on a third vaccine, like AstraZeneca, becoming available in Canada.

Manitoba also plans to open two new vaccination supersites in Selkirk and Morden-Winkler in the first week of March. Once open, the province will have established large-scale vaccination centres in all five health regions.