What we know — and don't — about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Manitoba

Although Manitobans know how many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine the province will receive between now and March, and who the priority groups will be, other questions about exactly who will get the vaccine, and how, remain.

Manitoba announced how many doses will arrive in the first round, but many other questions remain

Nurse Paula McMahon prepares a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, as the mass public vaccination program gets underway at a hospital in Glasgow, Scotland, on Tuesday. Manitoba will get its first doses of the vaccine next week. (Jeff J Mitchell/The Associated Press)

Shortly after Health Canada's approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, Manitobans got their first look at the provincial government's plans for administering it.

We now know how many doses of the vaccine the province expects to receive in the first stage of the rollout, as well as which priority groups will get access to those first doses. 

Many key details remain to be determined, including the exact numbers of people in priority groups slated to receive those first doses, as well as how the province plans to sequence the rollout to people within those groups. 

Health officials expect to release more information in the coming days about how people selected to receive the vaccine can get it. 

For now, here are some of the details we know — and what we don't know — about the COVID-19 vaccine in Manitoba. 

How many doses of vaccines will Manitoba get? 

Manitoba is slated to receive 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine — the one approved by Health Canada on Wednesday — next week. Because that vaccine requires two doses, it's enough for about 900 people.

By March 31, Manitoba expects to receive 237,600 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and a yet-to-be-approved one from Moderna — enough to vaccinate more than 100,000 people. 

Who is first in line for the initial doses?

The first 1,950 doses are reserved for health-care workers in the critical care field, the vast majority of whom are working in critical care units in Winnipeg. 

Taking into consideration guidelines from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, the provincial task force in charge of rolling out the vaccine distribution campaign has identified four priority groups for the doses expected to arrive between now and March:

  • Health-care workers directly involved in the COVID-19 response.
  • Seniors living in long-term care facilities and other congregate living settings.
  • Older adults, starting at the age of 80.
  • At-risk adults living in remote Indigenous communities. 

Health Canada has only approved the vaccine for people over the age of 16.

The task force is still working to determine the exact number of people within each group who will need to be vaccinated before the rest of the population, a provincial spokesperson said.

"We're going to have to make choices and we're going to have to sequence this," Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference Wednesday. 

"We're going to have to take a number of things into account, such as where the most transmission is taking place."

How many people are in the priority groups?

There will certainly be tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of people in total. 

There are nearly 10,000 personal care home beds listed in Manitoba, although the province has not said how many of those are currently occupied and how they will be prioritized.

Membership numbers from unions representing front-line health-care workers, as well as Doctors Manitoba, indicate there could be nearly 50,000 professionals in that field in need of doses. 

Census data from 2016 — the most recent available — counted more than 83,000 people in the province over the age of 80.

The same census showed there were more than 130,000 First Nations people in the province, roughly half of whom were on reserves. The province hasn't said how many it would consider to be "at-risk adults."

Where the province's urban Indigenous population falls within the priority list has also not been determined. 

How will people get vaccinated, and where? 

The first vaccination site will be in Winnipeg. Over the next three months, more locations will be established in Winnipeg, Brandon, Thompson, Steinbach, Gimli, Portage la Prairie and The Pas.

Details on how the first 900 health workers can book appointments to get the vaccine will be released in the coming days. 

Beyond that, the province is still working out details on how it will notify people that they are eligible for the vaccine. 

What will change for people who get vaccinated? 

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are messenger RNA (mRNA), or inactivated, vaccines, which means there is no chance of someone catching the virus from the immunization, Roussin said. That means vaccination won't require people to self-isolate.

Everyone, though, including people who have received the vaccine, will still have to follow public health orders.

"It's no doubt good news that we have a vaccine, but we can't let our guard down because of it," Roussin said.

Premier Brian Pallister said the province will consider implementing some kind of "passport" for people who have received the vaccine, as other provinces such as Ontario have considered, which could grant easier access to public events and other freedoms. 

How long does the vaccine protect you?

No one knows yet. Early trials have shown it is effective about 95 per cent of the time, but it remains to be seen how long immunity will last.

If you already had COVID-19, are you still a priority?

Again, no one knows yet. Provincial health officials are in discussions with their counterparts across the country trying to answer the question of when, or whether, to immunize members of priority groups who have already recovered from COVID-19.

How many people need to be vaccinated for it to be effective?

In order to be effective, roughly 60 per cent of the population of Manitoba will need to get immunized, Roussin said.