Youngest eligible Manitobans can get COVID-19 vaccine at pharmacies when feds approve it for kids
Policy change pharmacists called for last week comes as infections rise significantly in youngest Manitobans
Manitoba pharmacists will be allowed to vaccinate all kids age five to 11 once they become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said at a news conference Wednesday.
Previously, pharmacists in the province were limited to vaccinating people age seven and older.
Pharmacists called for the policy change last week. The shift will also allow them to give seasonal flu vaccines to kids as young as five.
"With positive news on the horizon about the availability of a pediatric vaccine, we hope to have a much better chance to keep all our kids healthy," Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba's vaccine implementation task force, said at the news conference.
"[We want] to keep them away from the hospital, to prevent them from having long symptoms related [to] COVID and to keep them happily in their active, daily lives in school with friends, with family."
WATCH | Dr. Joss Reimer addresses parents' vaccine concerns:
Pharmacists Manitoba president Ashley Hart said the organization appreciates the government taking action on its request.
"We believe that this policy change will help avoid the mass confusion and frustration which we had anticipated if there were an age discrepancy between the age of eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, and the age which pharmacists are permitted to vaccinate," Hart said in a statement.
The update comes as COVID-19 cases rise significantly among Manitoba's youngest age groups.
Of the province's 1,709 cases in minors since Oct. 1, just over half were among kids age five to 11, task force officials said at a technical briefing earlier Wednesday.
The proportion of infections in that age group is expected to drop once they start getting vaccinated, as happened with kids age 12 to 17 when they became eligible for the vaccine, Reimer said.
"We can just see that play out in the lower number of outbreaks in [older] grades and the lower number of cases overall," she said.
Approval expected soon
Manitoba will be ready to start vaccinating kids age five to 11 against COVID-19 within a week of approval by Health Canada and the arrival of doses for children in the province, Premier Heather Stefanson said at Wednesday's news conference.
"As we await the approval of the pediatric vaccine, I want to assure you that Manitoba will be ready to quickly implement the next phase of our vaccine campaign," Stefanson said.
The federal health agency is expected to approve Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for children in that age group near the end of November. It would be one-third the size of the dose given to adults and kids 12 and older.
A recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization on whether the benefits of the shot outweigh potential risks for young children is expected to follow.
Once the province gets the low-dose vaccine for that age group, it will take about a week to ship the shots to the sites across Manitoba where they'll be administered. That list includes pharmacies, schools and regional vaccine clinics.
Officials said they have enough supplies like syringes and expect to get enough doses to start booking appointments for all youth as soon as they become eligible.
Gordon urged people who have or care for young children to talk with their kids before the vaccine becomes available.
"The time is now to start having family conversations about how vaccination works and about how it helps keep people safe and healthy," she said.
The initial rollout will continue until everyone who wants to be vaccinated has the opportunity. After that, the province will look at regional immunization rates to see if more strategies are needed to target areas with lower vaccine uptake, officials said at the technical briefing.
At a news conference earlier Wednesday, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Manitoba doesn't currently plan to change vaccine mandates across the province to apply to kids under 12 once they're eligible.
The plan for the youth vaccine rollout was informed by a recent Leger survey done for the province.
That survey suggests parents are comfortable taking their kids anywhere to get them immunized and helped shape the province's plan to offer the shots in a wide variety of settings, officials said at Wednesday's technical briefing.
That means pediatric vaccine doses will be sent to First Nations communities, Manitoba's five urban Indigenous clinics and the province's regional vaccine clinics.
They'll also be available in a number of doctor's offices and pharmacies that request doses, as well as in other immunization settings like hospitals.
The province will also make vaccines for kids available at in-school student clinics and after-school community clinics.
While students will still need parental consent to get their shots during school hours, they'll be vaccinated without a parent present. Meanwhile, after-school community clinics will be open to any community members so whole families can go together, officials said.
School-based immunizations are expected to start a few weeks before kids go on their winter break and continue for a few weeks after they come back to class.
The online poll surveyed 460 Manitoba adults through Leger's online panel from Sept. 9-12, including 275 who were parents of children under 12.
A margin of error cannot be calculated for online surveys, but for comparison purposes, a random sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
The survey suggests that 75 per cent of Manitobans with kids age five to 11 plan to get them vaccinated, while 15 per cent aren't sure and 10 per cent will not.
It also suggests that unvaccinated parents are less likely to vaccinate their kids, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're totally against it. While 81 per cent of the unvaccinated parents surveyed said they won't get their children immunized, 19 per cent said they're not sure yet.
Meanwhile, having a vaccinated parent doesn't necessarily mean the kids will get vaccinated too, the survey suggests.
Among vaccinated parents surveyed, 81 per cent said they'd get their kids vaccinated — but 15 per cent said they weren't sure yet and four per cent said they won't.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | November 17, 2021:
- An earlier version of this story, based on information from the province's technical briefing, said Leger's survey polled 800 Manitobans. In fact, 460 were surveyed.Nov 17, 2021 5:15 PM CT