Pace of immunizations, vaccine hesitancy worry majority of Manitoba doctors, survey suggests

The majority of Manitoba doctors polled in a recent survey worry the provincial vaccine rollout is moving to slowly and that vaccine hesitancy could hamper efforts to reach herd immunity.

Hesitancy rates highest in rural Manitoba, men and those 18-54, according to joint poll and doctors' survey

Dr. Brian Penner receives the first COVID-19 vaccination in Manitoba at Health Sciences Centre in December. Ninety-five per cent of Manitoba physicians have received at least one dose of the three different COVID-19 vaccines, pointing to a high degree of confidence in the products. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The majority of Manitoba doctors polled in a recent survey worry the provincial vaccine rollout is moving too slowly and that vaccine hesitancy could hamper immunization efforts amid the growing third wave.

Eighty-eight per cent of physicians surveyed by Doctors Manitoba said they think Manitoba's immunization campaign is taking too long, meanwhile 83 per cent of Manitobans surveyed shared similar concerns in a companion poll by Probe Research. 

Men, Manitoba adults under the age of 55, rural Manitobans and those with less education were among those with  higher vaccine hesitancy or refusal rates in the Probe poll.

And about four in five Manitobans and physicians said they are worried about the third wave.

"Physicians are concerned that not enough Manitobans are willing to get a COVID vaccine and that we may fall short in Manitoba of reaching herd immunity," said Dr. Cory Baille, president of Doctors Manitoba. 

"Physicians trust and support these vaccines."

More than 1,000 doctors were surveyed between April 1 and 11, and 1,000 Manitoba adults were surveyed online by Probe from April 5 to 14. A sample of this size has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, according to Probe.

The findings were released jointly on Monday, the same day Manitoba significantly expanded eligibility criteria for the vaccine currently in use at pharmacies and doctors' offices. Anyone 40 and older can now get the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covishield vaccine.

Herd immunity concerns

Over two-thirds of doctors worry Manitoba won't hit herd immunity — the proportion of a population that needs to be vaccinated in order to slow or stop the spread. Doctors Manitoba says that threshold needs to be 70 to 85 per cent.

While the Probe poll cites 74 per cent of adults as "vaccine confident," Doctors Manitoba points out the poll sample only represents 57 per cent of the provincial population. Those under 18 aren't currently eligible.

The latest Manitoba data shows getting even one shot offers a high degree of protection.

Epidemiologist Cynthia Carr noted late last month that clinical trials have focused on how efficient the vaccines are at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and death, and not necessarily on how effective they are at reducing spread.

"At this point, from what we know about the vaccine, our focus is not necessarily herd immunity: it is prevention of the most serious outcomes for the individuals and for our health-care system," said Carr.

"We are learning about how much reduction in transmission the vaccine may also assist with, but we don't know that yet, so we cannot say a target number of 70 or 80 per cent in terms of herd immunity."

1 in 4 hesitant: Probe

About 26 per cent of adults in the Probe poll reported being hesitant. Some don't see COVID-19 as a personal risk, others believe vaccine development was rushed and some worry about side effects.

Ontario and Alberta will start vaccinating people 40 and over beginning Tuesday. Manitoba is following suit but pushed through the change the same day it was announced on Monday. (Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press)

AstraZeneca rollout has hit delays around the world after a small fraction of those to receive it experienced rare but serious blood clots.

So far, 20 million doses have been administered worldwide; risk of a clot is somewhere around 1 in 250,000. By contrast, the risk of a clot from COVID-19 is eight to 10 times higher than from a vaccine, according to an Oxford study.

Health Canada said last week the vaccine is safe and urged Canadians not to hesitate, as risks associated with COVID-19 outweigh those of the vaccine.

Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba all recently dropped eligibility requirements for AstraZeneca to expedite immunizations. The poll was conduced before those announcements.

Men more hesitant

According to Probe, nine per cent of Manitobans are unlikely to get vaccinated at all versus 16 per cent who are hesitant.

Men (12 per cent) and people living outside of Winnipeg (13 per cent) are twice as unlikely as women (six per cent) or those living within Winnipeg (six per cent) to get vaccinated.

Ninety-six per cent of university graduates polled plan to get it, but only about 80 per cent with a high school education or less say they will. 

Manitobans age 18-34 and 35-54 shared similar rates. About one in five in each category say they're hesitant, and roughly one in 10 say they're unlikely to get vaccinated at all.

Expediting vaccination campaign

Doctors Manitoba says with the right support, physicians can help combat vaccine hesitancy.

Ninety-five per cent of doctors in the province have received at least one dose so far, illustrating a high degree of confidence in vaccines. 

Doctors' offices are also the preferred site of getting the jab.

The Probe poll suggests 88 per cent of Manitobans would prefer to get immunized by their doctor over other options. And 44 per cent of those who are hesitant would be more likely to get it if they could access the vaccine through their doctor.

But the poll also shows 56 per cent of Manitobans have a hard time figuring out when they'll become eligible. Baille said Doctors Manitoba's vaccine information website is meant to address that gap, in addition to the provincial website.

Currently, AstraZeneca is being doled out by doctors' offices and pharmacies. But Baille says doctors would also like to be able to administer the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

"Vaccine supply is really the limiting factor," Baille told Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Monday.

"I think we're at a cusp in Manitoba where hopefully we can get ahead of this with quick vaccination, but we know what can happen if we do not."


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

With files from Peggy Lam