Manitoba doing enough to push booster shots: health minister


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Despite COVID-19 vaccine boosters being hailed by Canada’s chief public health officer as the best way to prevent serious illness and hospitalizations, the province says it’s not planning to do more to get Manitobans to get their shots.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/04/2022 (409 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Despite COVID-19 vaccine boosters being hailed by Canada’s chief public health officer as the best way to prevent serious illness and hospitalizations, the province says it’s not planning to do more to get Manitobans to get their shots.

“All of my colleagues have been out diligently talking about the importance of getting boosters and we’ll continue to send that message,” Premier Heather Stefanson said Tuesday, when asked about rising COVID-19 cases causing problems for Winnipeg emergency departments, resulting in longer wait times and historic levels of staff absenteeism.

“We take advice from public health when it comes to this,” the premier said at a news conference announcing the expansion of the St. Boniface Hospital ER.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon.
JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Health Minister Audrey Gordon.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said recently the third vaccine dose is “really important” because the Omicron variant evades immunity. A third shot can boost reduction against infection and transmission to others and strengthen the immunity against severe outcomes, she said.

The province has shut down its vaccination super sites and left it to pharmacies to dole out COVID-19 shots. Manitoba also shuttered its online vaccine tracker.

As of April 10, just 50.5 per cent of Manitobans ages 12 and up had their third shot, compared to the national average of 54.2 per cent, according to data Manitoba sends to the federal government.

When asked if the Progressive Conservative government is doing enough to encourage Manitobans to get vaccinated, Health Minister Audrey Gordon insisted it is.

“We’re doing absolutely a lot to get that message out,” she told reporters Tuesday.

“I myself was publicly vaccinated for my third dose,” said Gordon. “We have social media campaigns running… We still have our COVID vaccine (bus) benches (ads) out.”

Gordon said her doctor checked the electronic medical record to ensure she was “triple-dosed” at an appointment last week.

“Our physicians are doing that, pharmacists are doing the same. It’s a whole-of-the-health-care system approach to ensure Manitobans know about the importance of this,” said Gordon. “We’ll continue to make those efforts to ensure Manitobans know how important it is to get vaccinated.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, and vaccination is our best defence against COVID-19.”

Later in the day, the province issued a news release “celebrating the success” of its vaccination campaign — more than 85 per cent of Manitobans received two doses — and thanked the implementation task force for its work.

However, “Two doses is not enough,” said Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine.

The community health and epidemiology professor at the University of Saskatchewan and director of its population health and evaluation unit wants to retire the term “fully vaccinated.” Before COVID-19 is under control and considered endemic, people will need three, four or potentially five doses of the vaccine, he said.

“We need to be talking about ‘Are you up to date with your vaccines for COVID-19?’” Muhajarine said from Saskatoon. “That is the language we need to communicate. That is what’s going to protect you from going to the hospital and having serious COVID and maybe losing your life.”

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the provincial government could do a lot more to encourage residents.

During the previous stages of the vaccination campaign there were public clinics, outreach efforts and aggressive advertising, Kinew said.

“As we see our hospitals overrun with patients and we see the health system straining under the impact of PC cuts, it seems like its a pretty common sense intervention for us to throw more resources, more effort and more urgency behind the campaign to get more Manitobans vaccinated.”

On Monday, Muhajarine took part in a national call with experts to discuss behavioral approaches to risk minimization over the coming months of the pandemic.

A “vaccine-plus” strategy is needed, the doctor said Tuesday, including people donning N95 masks in some situations.

“Particularly when they are inside places where they don’t know the quality of the air that they’re breathing and they don’t know who is vaccinated, who has had up-to-date boosters,” he said.

“Governments need to talk about this, and public health authorities need to step up and talk about what they mean by ‘living with COVID.’”

The chief executive officer of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority was asked Tuesday if he thought more people wearing masks might help alleviate some of the pandemic strain hospitals are now facing.

“The challenges that we face as a system are not going to be singularly fixed by a public health order,” Mike Nader said at the St. Boniface Hospital news event.

“The issues and the challenges that we are experiencing within the health system are multifaceted. I think people are doing what they feel they need to do in terms of protecting themselves,” he said.

“I’d encourage people to continue to do that… to get the vaccinations and booster shots.”

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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