Interest, indifference greet latest booster expansion

An influx of eager bivalent-booster bookers headed online or phoned local pharmacies first thing Thursday to secure their latest dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but it’s not top priority for many newly eligible Manitobans.

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An influx of eager bivalent-booster bookers headed online or phoned local pharmacies first thing Thursday to secure their latest dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but it’s not top priority for many newly eligible Manitobans.

At Empire Drugs on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg, pharmacy manager Andrell Carta had received at least 10 calls by early afternoon, and was preparing to order more doses to top up the weekly supply he’d anticipated would last all week for walk-ins.

“I definitely have noticed an increase, so I will have to be ordering more vaccine in, so the interest is definitely there,” Carta said a day after the provincial government announced it was expanding fourth-dose eligibility to everyone 18 and older and making the latest bivalent vaccine available to all adults, starting Thursday.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The newly approved vaccine targets the Omicron variant BA.1, in addition to the original strain of the COVID-19 virus.

The newly approved vaccine targets the Omicron variant BA.1, in addition to the original strain of the COVID-19 virus.

Carta said he had, however, spoken to a couple of people who were hesitant about receiving it. “They wanted to see how the bivalent vaccine affected the general population before they got it, but I would say 90 per cent of people are more so eager to get it, that I’ve spoken to.”

He estimated the number of vaccine inquiries to the pharmacy has increased by half compared with public interest in the previous booster shots.

Contessa Dela Cruz was one of the eager Winnipeggers to book her vaccine appointment online Thursday morning.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Contessa Dela Cruz was one of the eager Winnipeggers to book her vaccine appointment online Thursday morning.

“I jumped at it,” Dela Cruz said after securing an appointment just over a week away. Information about vaccine availability, deciding which type of booster to get and when, can be tricky to navigate, she acknowledged, but it was never in question for her and her family.

“There’s so much information, which is good, but at the same time, it can get a little bit convoluted and confusing for some people at times. But I think the main message that I’ve learned throughout almost three years is these vaccines, they work,” Dela Cruz said.

“So for me, personally, if they ask me for a fifth, sixth, seventh (booster), I’ll jump at it.”

Calls started coming in Wednesday at Island Lakes Pharmacy, right after chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin held a news conference to announce every Manitoban 18 and older is eligible to receive the bivalent booster, as long as it’s been at least three months since their last COVID-19 vaccine.

“The main message that I’ve learned throughout almost three years is these vaccines, they work… so for me, personally, if they ask me for a fifth, sixth, seventh (booster), I’ll jump at it.”–Contessa Dela Cruz

It is recommended to wait six months between vaccines for the strongest immune response.

Tim Smith, who is the practice adviser for Pharmacists Manitoba, said the level of public interest in the bivalent vaccine hasn’t been as heightened as the first vaccine rollout last year.

“Not quite at that level, but comparable” to interest in previous boosters, Smith said. He advised individuals soon they’ll be able to get their flu shots and bivalent boosters during the same visit, if desired.

Not everyone was especially eager: Brian Fehr said he’ll wait for Canada to approve Pfizer’s bivalent vaccine, which was developed to target Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Brian Fehr said he’ll wait for Canada to approve Pfizer’s bivalent vaccine, which was developed to target Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

The currently available bivalent vaccine wasn’t formulated specifically for those subvariants, but Manitoba public health officials Roussin and deputy chief public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal have said it still offers good protection against those more recent strains.

BA.5 is still the dominant strain in Manitoba. It’s unknown when the Pfizer bivalent will be approved by Health Canada.

“I’ll wait till Christmas,” Fehr said Thursday.

If you’d asked her last year, Ashley Loszchuk would’ve been among the Manitobans setting alarms to book the first available vaccine appointments. But after her family has dealt with repeated COVID-19 infections despite being triple vaccinated, she isn’t feeling the urgency this time around.

“So, when are we going to be sick again, and do I have to rebook? I just don’t feel like it’s as top priority for me, because we’re always sick anyway.”–Ashley Loszchuk

“So, when are we going to be sick again, and do I have to rebook? I just don’t feel like it’s as top priority for me, because we’re always sick anyway,” Loszchuk said.

It’s recommended to wait three months or until fully recovered from a COVID-19 infection to receive the bivalent booster.

Others approached Thursday by the Free Press said they planned to get a bivalent booster before upcoming international trips, but weren’t urgently looking to book appointments. A couple of people declined to talk to journalists, saying they hadn’t heard anything about expanded eligibility and didn’t know what a bivalent vaccine was.

Alan Bell said he plans to get the bivalent shot as soon as it rolls out at his retirement home, along with this year’s flu shot. But he isn’t particularly anxious to receive his fourth dose, especially now that he doesn’t see many people wearing masks and thinks severe infections are less common.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Alan Bell said he plans to get the bivalent shot as soon as it rolls out at his retirement home but doesn’t see many people wearing masks or reporting severe infections.

He’s also stopped masking, but said he’s still concerned about becoming infected.

“I’m a diabetic and an asthmatic and I’m over 60, so I am a bit,” Bell said, adding he’s not bothered by the possibility of needing regular booster shots in the future. “Like I said, I’m a diabetic, I’ve been taking needles all my life.”

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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