All Manitoba care home residents to be offered COVID-19 vaccines over next month
All residents will get both doses by mid-March, says Premier Brian Pallister
People living in Manitoba's personal care homes will have a chance to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine over the next month as part of a campaign that starts Monday, the province said Wednesday.
"We want to make sure that [people living in care homes] are looked after because they're vulnerable," Premier Brian Pallister said at a news conference.
"As we know, significant fatalities have occurred in personal care homes right across the world, and our folks that live in them deserve our protection and our love."
As of Wednesday, just under half of Manitoba's 705 COVID-19 deaths were linked to personal care homes, according to provincial data.
WATCH | All Manitoba care home residents to be offered COVID-19 vaccines:
Until now, immunizations in the province have been reserved for health-care workers who meet specific criteria, which have been expanding since the first doses were administered in mid-December. That list includes people working in critical care units, long-term care facilities and at COVID-19 vaccination clinics or test sites.
Roughly 1,157 people will be vaccinated at seven care homes across the province's five health regions next week, a news release said.
Those sites are the Charleswood Care Centre, Tuxedo Villa and Oakview Place in Winnipeg; Boyne Lodge in Carman; Hillcrest Place in Brandon; St. Paul's Residence in The Pas; and Tudor House in Selkirk.
Those facilities are the first of Manitoba's total 135 care homes that will see residents immunized with either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines over 28 days, the release said.
The province says it will release a timeline next week for residents in other care homes to get vaccinated. Over time, it will ramp up weekly immunizations.
Every care home resident who wants the vaccine will be immunized, regardless of whether their site has had a COVID-19 outbreak or whether they have previously had COVID-19 — as long as no other medical conditions preclude them from getting the vaccine, the release said.
Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms when the vaccines arrive will also be excluded from that round of vaccinations. They can still be immunized at a later point, such as when the team returns to administer second doses, a member of the province's COVID-19 vaccine implementation task force said at a news conference later Wednesday.
Dr. Joss Reimer said it's normal to not vaccinate people when they have symptoms of any illness, not just COVID-19.
"When it comes to any immunization campaign, certain symptoms always exclude people from immunization and that's just a safety mechanism," she said.
"We do the same thing when we [do] our influenza campaigns. We ensure that people don't have specific symptoms that would make us concerned about their potential reaction to the vaccine."
All Manitoba care home residents — an estimated 9,834 people — will get both doses by mid-March, Pallister said on Wednesday.
Care home challenges
The plan to bring vaccines to care homes comes with its own set of challenges, Reimer said.
For example, the vaccination teams will need to learn how each care home is organized, how staff run things and where residents are at every site, she said.
WATCH | Dr. Joss Reimer on challenges of care home immunizations:
Teams will also need to work with care home staff to make sure they know how to approach residents who have cognitive or behavioural issues and may not react well to an unfamiliar person giving them a vaccine, Reimer said.
Sites that have active COVID-19 outbreaks will require extra steps to avoid spreading the illness, she said.
The province's plan is contingent on the federal government delivering the vaccine to Manitoba as expected, the release said.
Immunization teams in each health region will prioritize facilities by measuring the vulnerability of each site, basing that on the number of residents and percentage of shared rooms, the province said.
Meanwhile, the government is looking to hire a COVID-19 provincial immunization director.
The new position, announced three weeks after Manitoba started vaccinations against the illness, will let the province start thinking about long-term plans in an immunization campaign that will go on for months, Reimer said.
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"We have … an amazing team. But it's folks who have been pulled from other parts of government, from other parts of health," she said.
"We would like to expand our team and be thinking about how we can continue to do this in the best way possible while still freeing up some of our workers to go back to some of the services that they were providing."
Manitoba's Opposition leader said the fact that job is only being posted now is another example of the province failing to prepare for the second wave of COVID-19.
"Why wouldn't you hire this person last summer, last fall to oversee the vaccine rollout? You're trying to save three months' salary. And now it's costing us valuable time in terms of the vaccination program," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said later Wednesday.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont also accused Pallister of not preparing for Manitoba's vaccine rollout early enough.
"He's a premier with absolutely no foresight," Lamont said. "I don't know what this government thinks they're doing, because they're still scrambling and they're not organized. There's no excuse for this."
More vaccine supersites coming
Two new vaccine supersites open in Manitoba over the coming weeks, after the province's first site opened in Winnipeg on Monday.
The next site will open at Brandon's Keystone Centre on Jan. 18. A third immunization site will open on Feb. 1 at the Thompson Airport, which will serve people in the northern city and surrounding communities by air and ground.
To date, four people have experienced adverse events after getting a COVID-19 vaccine in Manitoba. Reimer described those types of events as vaccine reactions that are either unexpected or more serious than what is typically seen. They're rare, she said, but still expected in any immunization campaign.
Two of the people who had such reactions didn't need any further medical care, while the other two had to go to an emergency room for care. One of those people later recovered, and officials are still waiting for more information about the fourth person, Reimer said.
Adverse vaccine reactions, which the province will report to the public weekly, happen sometime after a person is immunized — but they aren't necessarily even related to the vaccine, she said.
Reimer said there are possible allergic reactions people can have to the vaccine, and there are other reasons why some people shouldn't be immunized, like certain health conditions. People with questions about whether they should get the COVID-19 vaccine should talk to their health-care provider to be assessed individually, Reimer said.
"We want to be completely transparent with Manitobans, but at the same time we don't want to create any unnecessary fear."
Of the 7,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine that have arrived in Manitoba, 5,300 are going to First Nations communities. Plans for getting those doses there is being finalized now, Pallister said.
"These processes take a little longer at the start, but they'll serve us well as we move through this," he said.
In a joint statement with the province and other First Nations leaders, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs late Wednesday night said an additional 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine has been allocated for rollout the week Feb. 23.
As of Wednesday morning, 5,165 people in Manitoba had been vaccinated against COVID-19, the province said.
WATCH | Premier Brian Pallister on Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccine rollout: