Manitoba hits pause on expanding vaccine eligibility as appointments fill up
After age of eligibility reached 65+, wait for supersite appointments began to stretch beyond 4 weeks
Manitoba has temporarily paused expanding eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine, as appointments at supersites across the province have started to back up.
Because of lingering uncertainty about supply, Manitoba is not booking appointments more than four weeks in advance, members of the province's vaccine implementation task force said during a news conference on Wednesday.
"The puzzle that we're always trying to solve on the planning side is we would like to go down that age eligibility as fast as feasible," said Johanu Botha, co-lead of Manitoba's vaccine implementation task force, during a news conference with Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead on the task force.
"But at the same time … we want to avoid a scenario as much as possible where we have individuals who are eligible but they can't make an appointment."
After opening up vaccine appointments to members of the general population one month ago, the age of eligibility has steadily fallen from 95 and over and First Nations people 75 and over, with changes announced every couple of days.
After reaching 65 and older for the general population and 45 and older for First Nations people on Monday, appointments at supersites began to extend into the fourth week from the booking date. The sites will stop booking new appointments once they have filled their appointments up to four weeks in advance.
"We were in a bit of a pressure point this week by dropping to 65. So in some locations not across the province, those appointments are filling up," Botha said.
WATCH | Johanu Botha on the 'puzzle' Manitoba's vaccine task force must solve to get doses in arms:
The age of eligibility will remain at 65 and 45 until more supplies arrive and the province works through the appointments currently scheduled, the task force says.
There are around 56,000 people in Manitoba 80 and older, while the population in the 65 and 79 age range is around 162,000.
Vaccines for every Manitoba resident
Although people who are booking appointments for vaccines are asked to bring their Manitoba health cards with them to the site, Reimer stressed that anyone who lives in the province can get a vaccine.
"We are not basing this on immigration status or residency or whether or not you have a Manitoba health card," said Reimer.
"We know that there are many people in Manitoba who live elsewhere for part of the year," including international students, migrant workers, and people caring for relatives or others, she said.
Reimer repeated that information in French and Spanish.
"If you've been here for at least a month or will be here for that amount of time, and you meet the eligibility requirements for the vaccine based on age or health condition, you can get the vaccine."
Last week, Manitoba announced it was piloting a new model at its supersites in Morden and Winnipeg, which it said will streamline delivery by having patients sit in one area while immunizers move between them.
On Wednesday, task force members said the new model will increase the number of doses each immunizer can deliver from between six and eight per hour to around 60.
Task force members also said Manitoba has reached its target capacity of 20,000 doses per day with the opening of the Morden supersite, although the number of daily doses actually being administered remains well below that.
"While vaccine supplies have been slowly increasing, and is expected to continue to grow in the weeks ahead, we still don't have enough vaccines to truly operate at that 20,000 doses a day, to stress test the system, so to speak. We continue to be limited by supply," Botha said.
Although the province's vaccine sites have capacity to deliver many more vaccine doses per day than they currently do, they must allocate vaccines by geography as well as the eligibility criteria.
"What this means is we may not always have appointments available at all sites at all times. We are not at a place yet where we can offer vaccines on demand like that," Botha said.
Spouses who meet the eligibility requirements can book appointments together.
A number of temporary immunization clinics opened in some rural and northern communities across the province on Tuesday.
Manitoba has also opened up vaccine eligibility to some younger residents with health conditions that put them at higher risk.
So far, Manitoba has received more than 230,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines. Health Canada announced on March 5 it has also approved a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | March 24, 2021: