Manitoba coronavirus vaccinations to start for general population despite supply disruptions

Manitoba says it’s on track to have all eligible personal care home residents inoculated with two shots of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of February — and vaccinations are set to start for the general population — despite disruptions to the federal supply of vaccine.

During an update on the province’s vaccination rollout Wednesday, officials said shots for all Manitobans 95 and older are expected to begin next week.

Read more: Manitobans can now download proof of COVID-19 vaccination; secure card coming in spring

A four-stage immunization plan released by the province in late January had said officials expected shots to begin for the general population in March.

“The supply and then the preparation of this team is what got us to this point today,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province’s vaccine task force.

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“The excellent planning of this task force, all the work that they’ve done, setting up our clinics, setting up the focus immunization teams to be able to have all of the supplies, all of the staff, the facilities, the freezers, the security, all of that ready to go for when we got the second half … and that’s the supply of the vaccine itself.”

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Since the first COVID-19 shots were delivered in Manitoba in mid-December, the province’s initial vaccination efforts have focused on seniors living in congregate facilities such as personal care homes, priority health-care workers and First Nations.

The move to those 95 and over is the first step of the province’s second stage of the planned vaccine rollout, which will see shots given to all Manitobans 80 and over, residents of high- and moderate-risk congregate living facilities, health-care workers in acute care facilities, paramedics and home care workers.

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The third phase, originally planned for the spring and summer, will see Manitobans over the age of 60 who haven’t yet gotten the shot become eligible, starting with the oldest population, as well as staff from a wide range of medical clinic settings.

Read more: Manitoba releases vaccination priority list, shots for the elderly could start in March

In the fourth and final stage, originally expected to begin in the summer and fall, all Manitobans over 18, starting with those over 55 and expanding by one-year increments, will be eligible to receive a shot.

In their update this week, the vaccination task force said with a good supply of vaccine, they now expect the fourth stage could be complete by the end of August, while a “low-range scenario” would stretch the predicted completion of the fourth stage into November.

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The province’s ambitious plan to have all eligible personal care home residents who want a shot fully vaccinated with both doses of vaccine is on schedule to be completed by the end of February, officials said this week.

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The plan, first announced at the beginning of January, has seen mobile teams sent to facilities across the province, immunizing an estimated 9,834 people.

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Meanwhile, provincial and First Nation health officials have been working to vaccinate Manitoba’s Indigenous population, prioritizing elders and health-care workers to start, under a broad plan that will see younger First Nations people able to access the vaccine sooner, both on- and off-reserve.

For example, when the second stage of Manitoba’s vaccine rollout starts offering shots to people over the age of 80, Dr. Marcia Anderson, who works with the First Nations response team, said doses will be made available to First Nations people over the age of 60.

Read more: Pop-up coronavirus vaccination site opens for priority First Nation members in Winnipeg

“First Nations people experience severe and significant effects of COVID-19, with an increasing proportion of cases and over-representation in hospitalizations, ICU (intensive care unit) admissions and death,” she has said of the plan.

“This means we need to ensure First Nations in Manitoba have access to the vaccine in an equitable and timely way – both to protect those most at risk, and to protect our health-care system from being overwhelmed.”

The province says it is currently averaging around 1,000 doses a day, but officials said Wednesday they have the ability to do 10 times that if supplies were on hand.

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Coronavirus: Manitoba First Nations people over age 60 to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Stage 2 of rollout – Feb 1, 2021

Manitoba ultimately plans to be able to administer up to 20,000 doses a day by April 1.

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To help reach that goal, doctors’ offices and pharmacists will be brought online to help distribute vaccines once supplies ramp up in the spring.

Last week, Manitoba said it had enlisted enough immunizers to deliver more than 15,000 doses per day, and had authorized more categories of workers to administer doses, including optometrists, dental hygienists, massage therapists and more.

Read more: Coronavirus — Manitoba opening 2 new vaccine ‘supersites’ in Selkirk, Winkler areas

“We have folks who are waiting in the wings, who are eager to get involved, who are asking for shifts,” said Reimer.

“We really look forward to the day when we can start to have all of those folks working shifts … and as soon as the doses are here, we will start providing them.”

For the time being Manitoba has set up three large-scale vaccination “supersites” — one in Winnipeg, one in Brandon, and another serving the north in Thompson — which act both as clinics to administer shots and as distribution hubs to store vaccine for use at pop-up clinics and by mobile vaccination teams.

Click to play video 'More Manitoba vaccine supersites opening soon' More Manitoba vaccine supersites opening soon

More Manitoba vaccine supersites opening soon

Two further sites will open early next month and the province says 13 supersites will open in total. All are expected to be up and running over the next six weeks.

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While federal vaccine supply issues have led to disruptions across the country, health officials in Manitoba say a slow and steady approach — including a decision to hold onto vaccine to make sure first doses are only given if a second shot is guaranteed — has kept the province’s vaccine plans relatively on schedule.

Read more: Manitoba reports 2 more coronavirus deaths, identifies 139 new cases

Provincial data posted online shows 57,702 shots have been given as of Thursday and Manitoba has received 81,300 doses since shipments started arriving in December.

Health officials say the plan is to be able to complete just over 45,000 more immunizations over the next 28 days, and so far, 2.1 per cent of Manitobans 18 and over have been fully vaccinated.

–With files from The Canadian Press

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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