'An important milestone': 70% of Manitoba adults have 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccine
Eligibility for 2nd doses expands to anyone who got 1st shot on or before May 4
Manitoba has hit a pandemic target of vaccinating 70 per cent of people over age 18 with at least one dose in its effort to shut down COVID-19.
"Today, we have reached another important milestone," Johanu Botha, operations lead of the province's vaccine implementation task force, said Wednesday.
The percentage of the population age 12 and up is not far behind at 67.4 per cent, he said.
"Vaccine numbers continue to rise and that is something that I personally and I know that everyone on our team is thrilled to see. It has been nothing short of a herculean effort over the last few months to get to this point."
The province also announced eligibility for second doses of COVID-19 vaccines was expanded on Wednesday to those who received their first shot on or before May 4.
As of Wednesday, 802,045 eligible Manitobans have received at least one shot.
Nearly 90,000 doses will be administered this week, followed by another 83,000, Botha said, although those numbers could change depending on supply from the federal government.
Manitoba is expecting delivery of 3,500 doses of Moderna this week after two weeks of no shipments of that vaccine. The province is also expecting 87,750 doses of Pfizer and has already received 7,500 doses of AstraZeneca.
The latter was requested even though Botha and Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the vaccine implementation task force, told the federal government last week not to send any more AstraZeneca because of concerns with that vaccine.
It was decided that mRNA vaccines are superior and could provide better protection as a second dose for those who first received AstraZeneca.
The province decided to store the remaining 1,872 AstraZeneca doses for patients who may not be able to get an mRNA vaccine for medical reasons, including serious allergies.
"But the situation has changed, as it so often does in the vaccine rollout, and so we needed to respond," Botha said Wednesday, noting a number of people expressed a strong preference for AstraZeneca as a second dose.
"Our job is to make sure that we have the vaccines we need, when we need them."
The doses will be strategically distributed across the province based on public demand, he said.
Botha and Reimer are still recommending Pfizer or Moderna as a second dose for those who were given AstraZeneca as a first dose, however.
Reimer cited a new German study that suggests a mix of AstraZeneca and an mRNA vaccine is more effective than two AstraZeneca doses.
Some of the newly received AstraZeneca will be held as a backup in case someone can't get an mRNA shot due to limited supplies or limited access to a clinic where Pfizer or Moderna is available.
The province announced last week that it will expand a pilot project that made mRNA vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — available at some medical clinics and pharmacies to provide first and second doses to people.
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On Wednesday, Botha said about 5,500 doses were sent to 23 partners and all information so far indicates they are getting into arms at a good pace.
Over the next couple of days, another 6,000 Moderna doses will go to 125 partners, he said.
Reimer reiterated that people are encouraged to get the same mRNA vaccine for their second dose that they got for their first, if possible. Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines.
However, if a shortage of doses of a particular vaccine means there would be a lengthy delay between shots, then mixing is permitted. The two mRNA vaccines are considered equivalent, and both are safe and effective, Reimer said.
Young people age 12 to 17, though, must continue to receive Pfizer for both doses, as it is currently the only vaccine approved for that age group.
Reaching for 90%
Manitoba had set a goal of administering first doses to at least 70 per cent of eligible people, but Reimer said it's now clear that wouldn't be enough to reach herd immunity, due to the more contagious variants.
"We don't have a great estimate yet for the exact number we'll need to reach and even if we did, there's going to be another variant, so we're going to be continually evaluating the science [and] the effect of these variants," she said.
The task force has "no intention of stopping at 70 per cent," she said.
There are early signs that a single dose, while offering fairly robust protection against most strains of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, may only be about 33 per cent effective against the B.1617.2 variant, now identified as the "delta" variant — which was first identified in India.
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The number of cases in Manitoba stemming from that variant and others associated with the same strain — B.1617, B.1.617.1, and B.1.617.3 — jumped from 18 on Saturday to 83 on Tuesday. The delta variant alone went from seven cases to 61.
Reimer said she is not sure yet if those variants will require boosters beyond the second doses. As of now, it appears two doses protect against all variants, though possibly less against delta.
To spur more people to get vaccines, Manitoba has started offering incentives and privileges.
On Wednesday, Premier Brian Pallister, alongside Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries president and CEO Manny Atwal, announced nearly $2 million in lottery prizes for people who get vaccinated.
Pallister was asked what he has to say to those the lottery overlooks, such as people who would like to get a vaccine but can't due to certain health issues.
"There's very, very few of those people, I'm told," he said.
Earlier this month, Reimer said governments need to be cautious about financial incentives. If done the wrong way, they can be seen negatively by people already suspicious of the vaccine or the government's intent, she said.
Officials have spent a lot of time looking at the science behind incentives, financial and otherwise, and found the worst thing that can be done is to give cash to people who get a shot.
That's when people start to feel there is something being hidden, Reimer said.
But there wasn't the same effect when it came to a lottery, she said.
WATCH | Reimer says lotteries less likely to be seen as suspicious than cash incentives:
"Lotteries tend to bring about more of a sense of celebration and excitement," she said, and if that helps convince someone who was otherwise hesitant, then she supports it.
However, Reimer said her team will watch it closely because human behaviour can change from place to place and time to time.
"So even our best research on human behaviour might not predict how Manitobans respond here," she said.
"What we want is to use every tool we have to encourage Manitobans to get vaccinated. The task force's goal is to help Manitobans be healthy. We don't want to see any more deaths."
On Tuesday, Pallister also announced the implementation of immunization cards for fully vaccinated people two weeks after they've received their second dose.
It will permit them to travel within Canada without having to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return to Manitoba.
The province is also attempting to reach out to those who are vaccine hesitant or for whom travel to vaccine supersites has been a barrier to immunization.
Mobile outreach vans, house calls and community-hosted clinics are being launched while $1 million has been made available for grants.
Organizations can access up to $20,000 each if they can prove they have the ability to reach vaccine hesitant people and increase uptake.