Manitoba health officials are working to iron out the last kinks in the vaccine call centre operations before opening up eligibility to the general public next week.
Earlier this week, Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead on the province’s COVID-19 vaccine implementation task force, said that people 95 years of age and older would be able to book appointments sometime next week.
On Friday, she said that First Nations people 75 years and older would be able to book appointments at the same time.
“We’re working with the call centre now, and that’s actually one of the reasons we’re not quickly opening up to these ages, is we want to make sure that there are positive experiences when people do call,” Reimer said, during a Facebook live presentation with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
Call centre staff are receiving additional training to help First Nations people when booking their appointments, she said.
“Because we know that that call centre isn’t necessarily the best tool for all First Nations people and we want to make sure that we have mechanisms in place to escalate when there’s concerns and that we have safe mechanisms that serve First Nations people in Manitoba, as well as other Manitobans.”
Opening up to the general public marks a shift for the call centre staff, from handling appointments for people in specific job categories to the general population, a provincial spokesperson said in a statement.
“So we want to be sure that any necessary training and procedures are in place to provide the best possible experience for all Manitobans, including First Nation people.”
Family members or caregivers will be allowed to call on behalf of an older person and “cultural safety training is also being offered to ensure the best service possible,” the spokesperson said.
As the age of eligibility for the general population gradually lowers, the age of eligibility for First Nations will “automatically” come down as well, so that it will remain 20 years below the age for the rest of Manitobans, Reimer said.
“We see that First Nations people are experiencing the more severe outcomes to COVID at much younger ages. There’s almost a 20-year discrepancy in the average age of death between a First Nations person with COVID compared to all other Manitobans with COVID.”
Doctors, pharmacists apply to administer vaccines
The number of medical clinics and pharmacies that have applied to administer the COVID-19 vaccine has surpassed the target number the province had hoped to register.
The province had aimed to register 255 — 30 per cent of the 850 potential sites identified throughout the province. As of Friday, 460 medical clinics and pharmacies had applied.
Doses won’t be available at these sites until Health Canada approves a third vaccine that doesn’t require ultra-cold storage, such as the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Reimer said the federal government has told Manitoba health officials that AstraZeneca’s approval is “imminent,” although no set date has been announced for when it could be available.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the provinces should be prepared for hundreds of thousands of doses of the vaccine to arrive in Canada each week for the foreseeable future.
Although vaccine deliveries are stabilizing — thanks in part to commitments from Pfizer to deliver more shots than originally planned over the next six months — Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada’s supply of vaccines will still be comparatively small over the coming months.
She urged provincial governments to maintain strict public health measures to prevent more contagious variants of the virus from taking hold.
Manitoba has received a total of 84,810 doses, including two shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the last two days equalling 15,210 doses.
In total, 58,974 doses have been administered, including 35,227 first doses and 23,747 second doses.