Residents at Winnipeg care home appear to avoid serious illness during COVID-19 outbreak after 1 vaccine dose

Staff at a Winnipeg care home believe that more than a dozen residents who contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak have not become seriously ill because they were given their first vaccination dose last month.

As of Wednesday, there were 19 cases of the illness linked to the outbreak at Actionmarguerite St. Boniface, which was declared on Feb. 8. That outbreak led to the death of one woman in her 90s.

“Most of them are doing well, they’re eating well, they continue to drink, and their symptoms appear to be not as severe as what we had been told,” said Charles Gagne, chief executive officer of Actionmarguerite.

“We’re hopeful that that will continue and that they will recover soon, and that we will be able to get back to normal as quickly as we can,” he said.

Gagne hopes that the second vaccine doses, which Manitoba has pledged to all personal care home residents by early March, will provide an added level of protection for some of the province’s most vulnerable.

The province declared an outbreak at Actionmarguerite St. Boniface on Feb. 8. So far 19 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and a woman in her 90s died from the illness on Saturday. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The situation at Actionmarguerite St. Boniface is similar to what other personal care homes are experiencing across the province.

Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead for Manitoba’s vaccination task force, says it’s too early to draw any strong conclusions about how effective the first dose of the vaccine has been in personal care homes, but what she’s seen and heard anecdotally is cause for hope.

“We are seeing quite a drastic drop in the number of facilities experiencing an outbreak in Manitoba, which has been very exciting for us to see. Part of that is due to the overall decrease in cases in Manitoba, there’s no doubt,” she said at a Wednesday news conference.

But she said it’s believed the first vaccine doses that have been administered are helping too.

“We belive that it’s leading to lower numbers of outbreaks already being seen, as well as lower severity of illness in people who are still getting infected despite immunization with the first dose.”

Reimer says the information is anecdotal at this point and hasn’t been backed up with solid science.

There are currently 11 outbreaks at personal care homes in the province, including seven in Winnipeg. That’s a remarkable drop from the late fall, when there were outbreaks in the majority of Winnipeg’s care homes.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is investigating reports that one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines — both of which are two-dose vaccines — provides a high level of protection.

Until there’s more concrete proof, Manitoba will stick with plans to offer both doses.

“While we haven’t made any decisions today about moving away from prioritizing the second dose, we plan to continue to watch this data very carefully and will move into this direction if the science shows us that that’s the best way to protect Manitobans,” Reimer said.

Some provinces, like Quebec and New Brunswick, have also moved towards delaying a second dose for some people

Those at low risk of severe illness are sometimes waiting up to 90 days for the second booster shot.

The approach aims to get as many first shots into people as possible, in light of limited vaccine supply and the growing threat of variants.

Reimer says for now, Manitoba is staying the course and providing second doses within the time frame recommended by the manufacturer.

WATCH | Residents at care home appear to avoid serious illness during COVID-19 outbreak after 1 vaccine dose:

Staff at a Winnipeg care home believe that more than a dozen residents who contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak have not become seriously ill because they were given their first vaccination dose last month. 1:51