The day after changes to Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy was announced, vaccine team medical co-lead Dr. Joss Reimer gave a more thorough update during a Friday morning media briefing.
On Thursday evening, Reimer and Health Minister Heather Stefanson revealed to participants attending a telephone town hall on the vaccination effort that first responders, people with public-facing jobs and all residents older than 18 in communities disproportionately affected by the virus would soon get access to vaccines.
"We have made good progress immunizing those who we knew were most at-risk," Reimer said Friday. "However, this is the beginning of the third wave of COVID and the variants are becoming more prevalent and we know they are more contagious and more severe, even for younger people. So we do need to continue to adapt, with more details coming next week."
Those details yet to be provided include which communities will benefit from this new approach and which public-facing jobs will be targeted. So far, teachers are the only profession known to be included.
Reimer promised these details would be announced during Wednesday’s regularly scheduled vaccination update.
"What we’ve seen as far as disease transmission in some way or another will be one of the factors, but I suspect there will be other factors as well," Reimer said.
As for why police and firefighters are being included, Reimer said the decision was based on guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, though she didn’t comment on the scientific reasons for the move.
Since details surrounding this announcement are scarce, the Sun asked Reimer why the province didn’t wait until plans were firmed up before bringing them to the public’s attention.
"I think we wanted to give Manitobans the information about what we were planning as soon as we knew what our plan was," Reimer said. "We committed to sharing what we know with Manitoba, so I want to be as transparent as I can be and as soon as I know what direction something will be moving and things are clear at least in the direction, I want Manitoba to know that."
The idea of targeting areas the province considers more at-risk came up earlier this week, when Reimer and her vaccine task force co-lead Johanu Botha said that recently cancelled pop-up vaccination clinics would be redirected to Winnipeg once Moderna supplies are reestablished, given recent increases in daily case numbers in the capital.
Despite injections of AstraZeneca being paused for some age groups due to concerns of rare side effects, Reimer said there is no immediate worry the doses Manitoba has on hand will expire without getting injected, as the earliest expiry date is at the end of May.
Moderna announced Friday morning more its vaccine shipments to Canada would be reduced by half from 1.2 million to 650,000 because of production issues.
Later in the morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government had reached a deal with Pfizer to increase its vaccine shipments to Canada by eight million by the end of June.
The province also announced on Friday that vaccination eligibility had been dropped to 57 years or older for the general population and 37 years or older for First Nations people.
Reimer said she and her colleagues would be on a federal call later Friday to discuss the Moderna news and the vaccine implementation task force would then start to work out how exactly that would affect Manitoba.
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