Just the vax facts: the lowdown on Manitoba’s vaccination plan

Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been adjusted almost daily, as the federal government buys more vaccines, experts clarify when doses are needed and the province updates its projections.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/01/2021 (630 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been adjusted almost daily, as the federal government buys more vaccines, experts clarify when doses are needed and the province updates its projections.

Here’s where things stood as of Wednesday.

1) How many doses do we have, and where have they gone?

Manitoba had received a combined 38,890 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines as of Wednesday, and had administered at least 32 per cent of them.

The province says it’s not currently collecting data on how First Nations have used their allocated Moderna doses. If all 5,300 doses have been administered, the percentage of doses Manitoba holds that have been administered would be closer to 46 per cent.

The Health Department did not specify Wednesday when asked how many doses in cold storage have been designated for a specific future use, such as the 2,000 personal care home residents set to get shots.

Both approved vaccines require a second dose for full immunization, and so far, 1,660 Manitobans have received both doses.

2) When are we expected to get more?

Manitoba says Ottawa has told it to expect 215,300 doses by March 31.

Beyond that, timelines could shift dramatically based on how many doses Ottawa purchases, and whether Health Canada approves another vaccine.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is overseeing the federal rollout, said last week the winter months involve “a limited and steady supply… before we see a significant ramp-up leading into April and the rest of the second quarter of the year.”

The Trudeau government expects to have enough doses on hand to immunize 20 million Canadians, more than half the population, by Canada Day.

3) What’s the holdup?

Manitoba has been among the slowest to use the doses it has received, and most provinces had an underwhelming start, in part, because vaccines arrived weeks before Ottawa had told them to prepare for it.

Some flexibility involving when the second dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines must be administered has allowed provinces such as Manitoba to get more people their first shot.

Manitoba is still planning to hold on to the doses it has scheduled for the coming five to 10 days, in case of a sudden break in the supply chain.

The province’s phone-in booking system originally had medical staff waiting hours to book an appointment, but the province says the wait is only about 10 to 15 minutes now.

Manitoba has been proactively training people to administer vaccines, and allowing professions such as veterinarians administer the vaccine.

The province says it hasn’t tapped pharmacists to help with administering doses because of manufacturer restrictions on the movement of vaccines. The government hopes to eventually contract out vaccination to pharmacists.

4) Premier Brian Pallister claims there isn’t enough supply; is he correct?

Premier Brian Pallister. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Sort of. Premiers have argued that the slow drip of vaccine deliveries imposes an onerous duty to figure out who should get access to a scarce supply of vaccines. They claim the average Canadian could just queue up for doses if provinces were given an abundant supply.

However, Canada has not yet invented any approved vaccine, and in fact lacks the capacity to manufacture the type of doses used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That puts us behind countries such as the United States and India. Yet Canada has done a better job signing contracts than the European Union.

5) How many doses do we need to administer by end of year to vaccinate all adults?

It would require 2,137,106 doses of the currently approved vaccines to immunize all 1,068,553 Manitobans aged 18 or older.

As of last week, Manitoba could only account for enough doses to reach 74 per cent of Manitoba adults by Dec. 31 — but Ottawa expects to have more doses of the approved vaccines on hand, and probably at least one other candidate.

6) How do the two vaccines differ, and what do they cost?

Both vaccines contain genetic code that the human body uses to detect the prickly spike of the coronavirus, so that the immune system creates the antibodies to kill the virus before a person gets sick.

That code, called mRNA is encased in fats to keep its shape. Both the Moderna and Pfizer require extremely cold temperatures to keep this shape in place, as the mRNA can easily break down and have no effect.

The Pfizer vaccine is trickier, requiring temperatures of -70°C until it’s thawed, at which point it lasts just five days in a fridge. The first doses came from Belgium.

The Moderna vaccine, which comes from the U.S., can last in a typical freezer at -20°C, for six months, and once thawed, lasts a month.

We don’t know the cost Canada is paying for either, which is a negotiated price that includes the speed of delivery.

A Belgian assistant minister accidentally tweeted that her country has paid 12€ (about $18.50 Canadian) for each Pfizer dose and 18€ ($27.75) for Moderna shots. Canada could be paying more, as a country that is receiving doses faster and had almost no contribution to developing either shot.

7) Is Manitoba planning to vaccinate teens?

Dr. Joss Reimer, a member of Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, said the province is only vaccinating people 18 years and older at this time, even though the vaccine is approved for people 16 and older.

“Right now, in order to get us the most accurate ongoing data based on that variation in product approval, we’ve decided to use the adult population (for immunization projections),” she said Wednesday, adding that this might change as the science evolves, and more vaccine doses become available.

COVID-19 reactions tend to be more deadly among the oldest Canadians, and children tend to have the mildest symptoms.

—With files from Danielle Da Silva




Updated on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 8:35 PM CST: Corrects spelling of Moderna

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