Manitoba vaccination timelines improve again as AstraZeneca doses arrive

Manitoba’s COVID-19 immunization timeline continues to improve after the first batch of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in the province.

Everyone eligible for a vaccine should be able to get at least one dose two weeks sooner than expected earlier, task force officials said at a technical briefing for media on Wednesday morning.

The first 18,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived Tuesday and will be distributed to 200 pharmacies and doctor’s offices starting Thursday, provincial vaccine task force co-lead Johanu Botha said. Hundreds of other clinics and pharmacies will receive vaccine from subsequent batches.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the task force, and Botha are holding a news conference at 12:30 p.m. CT that’s expected to include more detail about eligibility criteria for the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

CBC Manitoba will live stream the news conference here, on CBC Gem and on Facebook and Twitter.

Manitoba is getting almost double the amount of doses it expected this month, Botha said.

Manitobans 80 and older and First Nations people 60 and older are currently eligible to book vaccination appointments.

Revised supply projections from the federal government mean that even in a low-dose scenario, all adult Manitobans will be able to get one shot by the middle of June, Botha said at the technical briefing. That improves timelines released last week that had the final first-dose shots being administered at the end of June in the low-supply scenario.

A high-dose scenario remains relatively unchanged; it projects eligible Manitobans will have their first shot by May 21, as opposed to the target announced last week of May 18.

Both timelines would put needles in the arms of younger Manitobans months sooner than previously projected.

Manitoba is expected to receive twice as many doses this month as previously projected. A total of 208,000 doses are expected in March, more than half of which will be from Pfizer-BioNTech, officials said.

The province is getting nearer to its target of administering 20,000 doses per day, with the projected daily average rising to 4,300 in March.

Temporary vaccine clinics are expected to open in rural and northern communities soon. They will be open for single or half days at first, and those eligible can book appointments starting Thursday.

“This is an awesome opportunity to get your vaccine in your community,” Botha said.

Why timelines are improving

Canada’s immunization timelines have undergone a series of revisions in recent weeks as the medical literature evolves and the country receives more options.

Less than two weeks ago, Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for use in all adults.

Eligibility requirements for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine haven’t been released, though health officials suggested the first to receive it would likely be people 50-64, possibly specifically those most at risk.

AstraZeneca is the third vaccine in Canada’s arsenal, with the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines approved earlier. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have extreme cold storage requirements and will continue to be given at vaccine supersites and other places with appropriate refrigeration infrastructure, including some First Nations.

A map is to be published Wednesday showing the locations of all pharmacies and clinics that will be giving out AstraZeneca vaccines. Locations in green will be taking appointments, while those in red won’t. Don’t call unless you’re eligible, officials said.

A week ago, Manitoba health officials decided to lengthen the time between first and second doses, from a few weeks to up to four months, following in the footsteps of B.C. and other jurisdictions. 

Top provincial health officials have said the latest real-world evidence from multiple countries suggests a single dose provides a higher degree of protection than clinical trials suggested. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization also approves of the move.

Manitoba is no longer booking second appointments, though those who already had them booked will be able to hold on to those appointments. 

Days after the delayed dosing recommendation, Health Canada approved a fourth, single-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. The rollout of that vaccine is still being worked out. Other vaccines are still under review by Health Canada.