Manitobans with severe chronic illnesses, obesity, disabilities to get 1st AstraZeneca shots
Supplies, timelines improve as at-risk groups age 50-64, First Nations age 30-64 top AstraZeneca list
Manitoba will prioritize everyone age 50 to 64 and First Nations people age 30 to 64 who are most at risk from COVID-19 for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, including people with certain serious heart conditions, end stage renal disease or liver failure.
"It's been really exciting to be part of the light at the end of the tunnel," Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba's vaccine rollout, said during the announcement Wednesday.
"I strongly encourage all Manitobans to go and get the vaccine as soon as you are eligible."
Lists of first priority and second priority recipients of the vaccine were released at a news conference the day after the first batch of 18,000 AstraZeneca-Oxford doses arrived in Manitoba.
They will be distributed to nearly 200 pharmacies and doctor's offices starting Thursday, provincial vaccine task force co-lead Johanu Botha said.
A map published Wednesday shows the locations of all pharmacies and clinics that will be administering the AstraZeneca vaccine. Locations in green will be taking appointments.
Clinics and pharmacies will directly schedule appointments with patients who fit the new criteria during the first round, though some locations may also accept phone calls.
Apart from the priority groups announced Wednesday, Manitobans 80 and older and First Nations people 60 and older are also currently eligible to book vaccination appointments, although people 65 and older must go to a site that offers the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, which doesn't include doctor's offices and pharmacies.
Health Canada approved AstraZeneca about two weeks ago for all over the age of 18. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has not recommended its use for those 65 and older, citing a lack of clinical data.
As one of the many pharmacists who had applied to work at the vaccine supersites, Jason Hoeppner said he's excited to be able to chip in with the COVID-19 relief effort.
"This pandemic has been affecting our community and and I've lost some patients to it," said Hoeppner, pharmacist and owner of the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy on Osborne Street in Winnipeg.
"The toll it has taken on our community in terms of physical health, mental health, other business owners who have suffered and their staff — we wanted to be a part of ending this and hopefully regaining some sense of normalcy."
WATCH | Dr. Joss Reimer outlines eligibility criteria for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine:
Hoeppner and his staff are reaching out to patients and going through the pharmacy's online booking tool to identify patients who are eligible for the vaccine. So far, demand has been high, Hoeppner said, and it's possible the doses they receive initially will only be enough to cover the first priority group.
For flu shots, appointments are usually between five to 10 minutes in length, he said. But the pharmacy is extending that to about 15-20 minutes so there's more time to inform the patient and answer questions.
Timeline speeds up again
Botha released revised vaccination timelines Wednesday that suggest Manitobans will get at least one dose two weeks sooner than previously expected — by mid-June at the latest or May 21 at the earliest, depending on supplies.
Both timelines would put needles in the arms of younger Manitobans months sooner than previously projected.
That's made possible because Manitoba is getting almost double the amount of doses it expected this month, Botha said.
"We are going to be able to pump out more," he said.
A total of 208,000 doses are expected in March, more than half of which will be from Pfizer-BioNTech, officials said.
The province is getting nearer to its target of administering 20,000 doses per day, with the projected daily average rising to 4,300 in March.
Temporary vaccine clinics are also expected help expedite the rollout. They will open in rural and northern communities soon, for single or half days at first. Those eligible can book appointments starting Thursday by calling 1-844-626-8222.
"This is an awesome opportunity to get your vaccine in your community," Botha said.
More priority groups
Anyone eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines age 18 to 64, including health-care workers, is also eligible for AstraZeneca.
However, those who have already received one dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna have to stick with the same product for the second dose.
Groups at the top of the priority list for AstraZeneca include people in the target age groups with spleen health issues, with Down syndrome, and some pregnant people age 18 to 64.
Those who are severely obese or who receive home care more than four times a week, or 24/7 support through the province's Community Living Disability Services, are also eligible.
The same goes for those with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), some cancer patients, people with certain blood disorders, transplant recipients, and those living with sickle cell disease.
People with portal or pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial lung disease and cystic fibrosis, and those with a history of cerebral vascular issues are also eligible.
The priority list was based on local COVID-19 outcomes in Manitobans and data about at-risk populations in other regions, Reimer said.
More detail about priority groups is available on the province's website.
Why timelines are improving
AstraZeneca is the third vaccine in Canada's arsenal.
Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines approved earlier have extreme cold storage requirements and will continue to be given at vaccine supersites and other places with appropriate refrigeration infrastructure, including some First Nations.
Last week, Manitoba health officials decided to lengthen the time between first and second doses, from a few weeks to up to four months, following in the footsteps of B.C. and other jurisdictions. NACI also approves delayed dosing, citing real-world data from other countries suggesting one dose may be up to 80 per cent protective.
Days after the delayed dosing recommendation, Health Canada approved a fourth, single-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. The rollout of that vaccine is still being worked out.
Other vaccines are still under review by Health Canada.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | March 10, 2021:
With files from Cameron MacLean and Nicholas Frew