Manitoba expanded age eligibility today for COVID-19 vaccines to anyone 45 and older, with plans for everyone 12 and up to be able to book within the next three weeks.
All adults should be eligible to schedule a vaccination appointment by May 21, Johanu Botha, co-lead of the vaccine implementation task force, said on Wednesday.
People age 12 and up may also become eligible to book a shot by the same day, said Botha.
Early Wednesday, Health Canada approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those 12 to 15. It was already approved for 16 and older.
“The question will be on when to fit them in,” Botha said during a Wednesday vaccine technical briefing. “If we do see lower take-up or hesitancy, then there is a small chance we may be able to open it up even earlier.”
Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the vaccine implementation task force, said Manitoba is still reviewing the approval.
“We do intend to include eligibility for younger Manitobans along with adults as we move forward,” Reimer said during a news conference on Wednesday.
Existing consent protocols for minors will apply, Reimer said.
More than a third of Manitoba’s recent active cases have been people 19 and under.
With more young people eligible for vaccination, Manitoba may have a greater chance of reaching herd immunity, Reimer said. Experts say once 70 per cent of a population is immunized, the ability for a virus to spread is greatly diminished.
More than 40 per cent of Manitoba adults already have had at least one dose.
In the coming weeks, the province will open vaccination to new age groups on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It’s possible age ranges may drop by about five years on average with each update, Botha said.
All Manitoba adults are expected to get their first shots by June 4-8. If Manitoba includes adolescents in its vaccine eligibility, timelines for first dose completion would extend to June 11-15.
Second dose appointments will begin shortly after first doses are done. The goal is to open up second dose bookings starting May 22, Botha said. The second dose campaign is expected to be done by the end of July.
The first wave of people to be eligible for second doses will be immunocompromised individuals and those with certain medical conditions. Once they are vaccinated, priority for second doses will be based on when people got their first shot.
Botha also said a new supersite will open in Gimli, at the recreation centre at 45 Centennial Rd., in late May.
No more hot spots
The news about expanded eligibility comes days after Manitoba opened up appointments to all First Nations, Métis and Inuit adults.
Manitoba’s vaccine rollout has undergone a series of changes in recent weeks that have both expanded eligibility generally and targeted some high-risk populations in particular.
Last week, the vaccine task force opened clinics welcoming urban Indigenous populations and homeless people in several cities.
On Tuesday, the province announced a final group of high-risk areas where everyone 18 and older now qualifies.
As eligibility expands, Manitoba continues to see its COVID-19 outlook worsen, with daily case counts and hospital numbers rising amid the third wave of the pandemic in the province.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Manitoba intensive care wards has doubled in eight weeks and is now rising at such a rate that hospitals may soon contend with volumes so far unseen in the pandemic, doctors warned on Tuesday.
Manitoba intensive care units were treating 47 COVID-19 patients on Tuesday — more than double the provincial volume of ICU COVID-19 patients on March 10, when the number was 21 people.
The number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs started to rise more rapidly late last month, as some of the thousands of Manitobans battling the disease became more acutely ill.
At the current rate, hospitals could become overwhelmed with COVID patients within weeks, say the 212 signatories on a letter sent to Premier Brian Pallister Tuesday evening, calling on his government to enact more restrictions.
The doctors also called for financial support for shuttered businesses and sidelined workers, including paid sick leave and vaccination leave.
As well, they want to see immediate vaccination eligibility for all Manitoba teachers, school staff and child-care workers.
Asked Wednesday whether there are plans to extend eligibility to school workers, Reimer said some teachers have been made eligible through the geographical model Manitoba has used lately. Those 18 and older living in select high-risk areas are eligible, as are teachers and other public-facing workers who work but don’t necessarily live in these areas.