The province’s chief public health officer says he is confident vaccines are doing their job stopping serious illness even as COVID-19 cases rise.

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Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin

MIKE DEAL/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILE

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin

The province’s chief public health officer says he is confident vaccines are doing their job stopping serious illness even as COVID-19 cases rise.

Dr. Brent Roussin said at a Wednesday press conference that the rising cases, hospitalizations and deaths are concerning, but he is seeing signs vaccines are helping to blunt severe illness in the midst of the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Along with Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the province’s vaccine implementation task force, Roussin praised those Manitobans who have done their part to get a vaccine and follow safety guidelines to break transmission of the virus.

Cases are averaging 150 to 200 a week and hospitalizations are rising, but Roussin said he expects case numbers to increase for a while as test positivity rates and case counts fluctuate.

"The system is under strain right now, but the evidence we are seeing makes it clear vaccines are working," Roussin said. "Vaccinated people are much less likely to develop COVID, therefore much less likely to pass that on."

There are many studies that show those who are vaccinated and do develop symptoms are infectious for a much shorter duration and therefore less likely to pass it on to others, he said.

Meanwhile, more than 23,310 first-dose pediatric vaccine appointments have been booked as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Reimer. Those are just through the provincial vaccine booking system; many more are booking through their doctor or pharmacist. There are an estimated 125,000 children in the newly eligible group of five- to 11-year-olds in Manitoba.

"It’s been an exciting week for the province," she said. "This underscores what we knew, that Manitoba parents want to get this vaccine for their children."

Reimer reiterated children are much less likely to develop severe illnesses if infected, but cases among the five- to 11-year-old group are growing fast and the risk is very high they will become severely ill. So far, 27 kids have ended up in hospital, seven in intensive care and one has died.

The vaccine gives them the protection they will need to prevent illness in themselves and everyone around them. It is also recommended children do not get any other vaccine two weeks before or after their COVID-19 shot. Reimer said this is to track if there are any side-effects from the COVID vaccine.

Health officials are also urging the public to get their flu vaccines. Anyone six months or older who is eligible for the shot is encouraged to get it as soon as possible. As of Tuesday, about 17 per cent of Manitobans received their flu vaccine and cases are low, but Roussin implored everyone to get theirs to prevent further strain on the health system.

Health officials also clarified proof of vaccine for sports and businesses. Youth aged 12 to 17 participating in sports must show proof that they have at least one dose of the vaccine to participate with a printout of a proof of immunization record. For all other areas that require proof of vaccine, they will need an immunization card.

For businesses and venues, all Manitobans must show a QR code from the province, or a pan-Canadian vaccine credential to enter that establishment once it becomes more widely implemented. There are guidelines for acceptable forms for people from other provinces on the province’s website.

Moving forward, the province will change how it reports some data. After Friday, it will no longer report variants of concern. Roussin cited with the delta variant accounting for about 98 per cent of cases, they don’t see a benefit to keep publicly reporting on them. Public health will still screen and sequence samples to monitor for changes, and if a new variant shows signs of becoming a threat, it will be reported.

As well, the province will not report details on flights, trains or buses where there may have been a potential COVID exposure. This change reflects every person 12 years or older needing proof of double vaccination to travel domestically on those means of transportation. The provincial government will still collect the data to monitor but won’t publish it for public viewing unless it is deemed necessary. This doesn’t change the way the province manages close contacts and high-risk exposure.

They will still report data to international authorities on COVID exposures for international travel and Canadians re-entering the country. Exposures on cruise ships will still be reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada and posted on their website.

» kmckinley@brandonsun.com