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Second doses, eligibility on Manitobans' minds

·3 min read

Queries about an indefinite delay in second doses of COVID-19 vaccines and why neither younger adults with disabilities nor front-line workers are up next in the queue for jabs dominated the first town hall on the province’s immunization plan.

For an hour Tuesday evening, Manitoba’s health minister, top doctor, and two senior officials with the vaccine task force fielded questions from residents in rural and northern communities about the vaccine rollout via phone call.

“The vaccine really is a path out of the pandemic,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the vaccine task force, in her opening remarks. “We’ve reached 20 per cent of Manitobans and we still have a long way to go.”

Throughout the telephone town hall, officials were repeatedly asked why the province is delaying follow-up shots.

In response, Reimer explained the data supporting a delay in the second dose is “quite overwhelming,” given high rates of first shot effectiveness in protecting patients against severe outcomes — which she pegged to be between 70 per cent to a percentage in the late 80s — and the benefit to all Manitobans. She estimated those who’ve received only one shot will be able to get a top-up this summer.

Johanu Botha, co-lead of the vaccine task force, reassured callers there will be widespread communication once second doses are available.

Botha also responded Tuesday to a couple of rural residents who expressed disappointment that pop-up clinics in their regions were cancelled because of supply.

He indicated Manitoba may have to prioritize super sites in the future because they are the most effective model to get the most jabs in arms.

There currently five super sites, one in every health region, and pop-up clinics have been held in dozens of communities to date.

When callers posed questions about who should be prioritized for vaccines now, Reimer said a team of epidemiologists, physicians and other experts are pouring over data to figure out how best to proceed.

She also said the province is waiting on research before it hopefully resumes administering AstraZeneca vaccines to people under 55, considers mixing up different vaccines for second doses to increase effectiveness, and can potentially vaccinate youth.

Near the end of the call, one individual asked the panel why they should bother to get a vaccine if life won’t return to normal.

To that question, Dr. Brent Roussin offered a message of hope: “All pandemics end.”

The province’s top doctor added, “Right now, yes, just because someone gets a single dose of vaccine, we can’t lift all public health orders, but going forward, that is absolutely in the plan. We need to be patient. We need to continue with these fundamentals a little bit longer, and I know people are tired of hearing that, but we’re looking at a really good summer if we can get many Manitobans vaccinated.”

Earlier in the call, Roussin suggested herd immunity benefits will be evident when about 70 per cent of Manitobans get vaccinated.

The province is hosting a town hall for Winnipeg residents on the same subject Thursday.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press