Manitobans with chronic illness, disability celebrate inclusion on vaccine priority list

Manitobans with disabilities and chronic illness who are now eligible for AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine are eagerly booking their appointments.

Age-based vaccine prioritization expanded to include more people most at risk

Geoff Johnson, 62, who is prioritized because he's on dialysis, will soon be booking an appointment to get the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. (Submitted by Geoff Johnson)

Manitobans with disabilities and chronic illness who are now eligible for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine are happy and relieved the province broadened its vaccine priority lists.

Manitoba is now prioritizing anyone age 50-64 and First Nations people age 30-64 who are most at risk from COVID-19. 

Lists of first priority and second priority groups were released at a news conference Wednesday, after the first batch of 18,000 AstraZeneca-Oxford doses arrived in the province.

"I've just learned the news and that's great news!" said Geoff Johnson, 62, who is on home hemodialysis. He was born with only one kidney and has end-stage renal failure. He plans to book his appointment on Thursday.

"It means it's a little more to life than a careful trip to the grocery store and the pharmacy and it'll just take a little bit of the worry out of it."

Manitobans between the ages of 50 and 64 with severe heart, kidney, blood and liver conditions are among those eligible for the first doses, as well as people with Down syndrome, severe obesity and history of stroke.

People who get regular home care, 24/7 support from Community Living Disability Services and some pregnant women are also first priority.

People with diabetes, various neurological conditions, HIV, auto-immune disorders or who are receiving immuno-suppressing therapy are among those on the second priority list.

The vaccines are being distributed to about 200 pharmacies and doctor's offices across the province. A map with the location of all sites is posted online, with those taking appointments in green. 

"I think it's brilliant, I think it's wonderful news," said David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba. Cerebral palsy is listed along with multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, dementia and other neurological conditions on the second priority list.

David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, says he's been contacted by several members excited about the prospect of getting vaccinated. (Submitted by David Kron)

"I've been advocating with the vaccine task force that the criteria or priority system has to be more than just a birthdate; it has to be with what the person's medical health looks like."

Kron has cerebral palsy but is a very healthy 53-year-old, so he won't be trying to get on the lists until it's his turn. He said some people with CP have underlying health conditions, but not all. 

"It doesn't mean someone with a disability has poor health … you've got to look at the whole picture. 

"I have had several members phone me, quite excited about it, they're just waiting for their turn now. It is great news," he said. 

Johnson says he's been careful and compliant throughout the pandemic, and he and his wife have kept a small bubble. 

Happy for some protection

"With the vaccine, it's fantastic. I have grandkids," he said. "Hopefully once we're through the two-week period of getting both doses, maybe we can invite them into our bubble."

He's also on the list for a kidney transplant, and wants Manitoba to adopt an opt-out organ donation policy, as Nova Scotia has. For now, he's happy to be getting some protection against COVID-19.

"I don't tend to be a worrier but this is a real thing and it's really serious and I'm not about to mess around with it."

Health Canada approved AstraZeneca-Oxford about two weeks ago for everyone over age 18. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has not recommended its use in people age 65 or older, citing a lack of clinical data.