Demand for booster shots stalls High COVID rates in Manitoba this winter could be partly to blame for low uptake
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Demand for COVID-19 booster shots has plummeted in Manitoba, and the massive surge of infections this winter could be partly to blame.
Chris Chuckry was among the tens of thousands of Manitobans who caught COVID-19 late last year as the highly contagious Omicron variant ripped through the province. The college instructor in his mid-50s was forced to cancel his booster appointment after getting infected.
And he’s still waiting.
Chuckry is following the recommendation made by federal and provincial public health officials to wait three months after infection before getting boosted. He’s re-booked for mid-March.
He believes there are other Manitobans who are eager to get boosted, but are following government recommendations to hold off in favour of greater protection.
“I was a little disappointed, but it makes sense,” Chuckry said, adding catching COVID-19 hasn’t changed his opinion on immunization. “If it was available to me earlier, I would have definitely gotten it earlier.”
“If it (booster) was available to me earlier, I would have definitely gotten it earlier.” – Chris Chuckry
To date, 52.8 per cent of Manitobans 18 and up have opted for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to the more than 87.7 per cent of adults who have been double vaccinated.
Boosters became widely available to adults on Nov. 10, with public health officials recommending third doses six months after a person’s second shot, particularly for those at increased risk of serious illness, their caregivers and close contacts.
Since then, more than 580,300 people have received a third dose, with the highest number of boosters recorded on Dec. 29, when 17,907 were delivered.
However, the province has averaged just over 700 booster shots per day in the past two weeks.
A combination of factors including recent mass infection, government messaging on booster shots and pandemic fatigue have all likely played a role in slowing booster uptake, public health experts say.
And going forward, governments and public health units will face significant challenges in encouraging third doses as public health measures are eliminated, said Michelle Driedger, University of Manitoba professor of community health sciences.
“Certainly, some people only got their vaccines because of mandates,” said Driedger. “When we start seeing the removal of restrictions… that already is going to be taking off a lot of the emphasis on the importance of vaccines.”
On Wednesday, deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said uptake of third doses has been strong among the most vulnerable Manitobans, with just over 70 per cent of people 50-plus boosted.
“A lot of people have gotten that third dose,” said Atwal, one day after Manitoba lifted its vaccination mandates.
Atwal noted there may still be a number of Manitobans waiting the required five to six months to pass before getting a third dose, but did not have those numbers readily available.
“Certainly, some people only got their vaccines because of mandates.” – Michelle Driedger
A request for comment from vaccine task force lead Dr. Joss Reimer was not returned by deadline.
Driedger argued there has not been enough public messaging to support booster uptake, including sharing information about the protection offered by boosters compared to natural infection, as restrictions are eliminated in Manitoba.
The removal of the mask mandate and other protective measures further downplays the risk of COVID-19 despite strong public health recommendations to get vaccinated and continue to mask up while indoors, she said.
“Those messages still have to be there about the importance of vaccines even though we are having now to learn with it,” Driedger said. “Part of learning to live with it is still following those recommendations. It’s not something, just because we’re tired of it, that we can ignore.”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.