Advocates worry seniors living independently won't be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine
Manitoba pushing to vaccinate seniors in care homes, but no announcement on seniors in the wider community
At 94 years old, Elizabeth Domokos falls into one of the highest-priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination — but she says she's not all that anxious to get it for herself.
"Why should I worry about anything at 94?" she said. "I am a happy-go-lucky old Hungarian lady."
Domokos would rather see her 68-year-old daughter, who is battling cancer, receive the vaccine first.
"I wouldn't feel very good if I would get it sooner than her," she said.
Immunization teams have begun vaccinating residents in some of Manitoba's personal care homes.
At the beginning of January, the province said it aimed to administer a first dose of one of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines to all eligible personal care home residents within 28 days. It's unclear if a recently announced slowdown in production of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will affect the timeline for vaccinating care home residents.
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But Domokos lives alone in an apartment in downtown Winnipeg.
While she might not feel very concerned about when her turn to get the vaccine will come, advocates worry that seniors like Domokos and others living independently are not being considered in the provincial government's vaccine rollout plans.
"I am sure that there's many of them, in this age group, that have no idea of when they will be contacted, or if they're being thought of at all," said Domokos's friend Ann Szabo, a retired registered nurse.
Care homes, health workers prioritized
With limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, who should get first access remains one of the most difficult questions facing decision makers in Manitoba.
Because seniors who live alone might not be as visible as those in long-term care facilities, Szabo worries they aren't getting the same degree of attention.
"They're isolated, very much on their own, and they are scared and wondering if they will be considered," said Szabo.
The initial rollout of the vaccine in Manitoba has prioritized front-line health workers, as well as residents and staff at long-term care facilities.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization identified four priority groups for the first round of vaccinations: residents and staff in long-term care facilities, front-line health workers, adults in remote Indigenous communities, and seniors, starting with those over the age of 80.
Manitoba has begun distributing vaccines to the first three groups, but so far, no announcement has been made regarding seniors living in the wider community.
"I think they've lost their priority," said seniors' advocate Trish Rawsthorne.
Last week, the province expanded eligibility to home-care workers, as well as workers in other congregate care settings, such as Child and Family Services, disability services and homeless shelters.
Domokos has two home-care workers who visit her, as well as neighbours who regularly help her out.
Szabo says that means while she might not face the same risk as those in personal care homes, where a significant number of the province's COVID-19 deaths have occurred, Domokos could still be exposed to the virus.
Seniors Advocate needed
"If you want to know who to vaccinate, just follow the deaths," said Rawsthorne.
People over the age of 80 make up roughly two-thirds of the deaths in Manitoba related to COVID-19.
"If you don't get those people, you're going to inundate your hospitals with those people, so it makes sense to vaccinate those that are more susceptible to it."
Part of the reason why seniors in the community have not been prioritized may be because there is no one designated to advocate for them, Rawsthorne said.
She would like to see an official seniors' advocate created in Manitoba — an office of the legislature with responsibility over systems and issues related to seniors, similar to the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth.
"I think that person could have been the spokesperson to put a fire underneath those who are slowing down the rollout," Rawsthorne said.
As of Friday, Manitoba had administered 13,539, or 35 per cent, of the 38,890 vaccine doses it has received from the federal government, although that does not included doses administered by First Nations.
With files from Erin Brohman