Manitoba expands fourth COVID dose eligibility

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Manitobans 50 and older are now eligible for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and there are no plans to further expand fourth-dose eligibility until the fall.

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Manitobans 50 and older are now eligible for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and there are no plans to further expand fourth-dose eligibility until the fall.

Eligibility has been expanded for the antiviral COVID-19 treatment pill Paxlovid, which will be available at more than 175 pharmacies in the province, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced Friday.

In his first update in about six weeks, Roussin said fourth doses are available to Manitobans age 50 and older; First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people age 30 and older; and adults with moderate to severe immunocompromised conditions can receive their second booster shot, the fourth dose overall. The interval between boosters has been reduced to four months from six months.

Dr. Brent Roussin gives an up date on COVID statistics during a press conference at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Friday morning. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)

“We know that our best protection against COVID-19 has been vaccination,” Roussin said. “Get that vaccine dose as soon as possible.”

COVID-19 continues to spread widely in the community, driven predominantly by a wave of Omicron subvariant B.A. 2. However, Roussin said the COVID-19 situation in the province is “fairly stable.”

Hospital admissions due to COVID-19 appear to have peaked and admissions to intensive care are likely peaking as well, he said. The amount of virus detected in wastewater in Winnipeg is fairly stable and potentially on a downward trend.

Public health estimates 79 per cent of people in hospital with COVID-19 were admitted for other reasons; about 40 per cent of people in intensive care with the disease were admitted because of the virus.

Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr said recent wastewater monitoring data are “somewhat encouraging,” but she suggested Manitobans should be cautious about celebrating a presumed downswing in transmission. 

“It can quickly go the other way if we don’t get our proper number of vaccines to protect us.”

Another wave in the fall is likely, Carr said, which will make vaccination even more important. That doesn’t mean everyone will need a fourth dose, she said, drawing comparisons to different flu vaccines that are geared toward the elderly and vulnerable.

“It’s not a reason to jump into thinking that everybody should have a fourth dose. It is a reason to assess where you’re at now and take the opportunity to get up to date.”

Carr got her fourth dose as soon as the expanded eligibility was announced Friday, and said she was able to book a same-day appointment at the downtown RBC Convention Centre vaccine clinic.

Roussin said it is likely the province will stage another immunization campaign in the fall to promote COVID-19 vaccination and other immunizations. Eligibility for second COVID-19 booster doses is unlikely to expand again before the fall, he said.

Across the country, the fourth-dose rollout has been cautious. Booster doses are typically reserved for the oldest and most immunocompromised Canadians, in addition to international travellers. General eligibility in Saskatchewan is 50 and older; in Ontario, it’s 60 and older. Alberta, British Columbia and Nova Scotia set eligibility at 70 and older.

COVID-19 treatment with Paxlovid — an oral anti-viral medication developed by Pfizer — still has to begin within five days of the onset of symptoms, even though access to the prescription drug is being expanded at pharmacies.

“We now have provided guidance to clinicians on things to consider on who can receive Paxlovid… so it’s very important to have that early diagnosis and access to care,” Roussin said. “Speak with your health-care provider early on.”

Public health officials are trying to understand a reported increase in deaths due to COVID-19, he said. On Thursday, the province said 66 more Manitobans had died due to COVID-19, some as far back as Feb. 27. Roussin also said widespread transmission of Omicron may have led to more deaths.

COVID-19 cases are no longer reported directly to Manitoba public health, so Roussin said delays in public reporting should be expected because information comes from a number of sources.

“This is very quick reporting. If we look at the way we report almost all other deaths, through Vital Statistics and things, that takes weeks and weeks and weeks, if not longer,” he said.

Public health has confirmed more than a dozen cases of influenza A. Roussin encouraged Manitobans to get a flu shot if they haven’t already.

Meanwhile, no cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in Manitoba, he said. Two cases of the rare disease have been confirmed in Quebec and more than a dozen others are suspected in the Montreal area.

“We’re following that situation quite closely,” Roussin said, adding health-care providers have been asked to watch for signs here.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca
danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

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

History

Updated on Friday, May 20, 2022 2:35 PM CDT: Adds photo, updates story

Updated on Friday, May 20, 2022 4:02 PM CDT: Adds comments by Cynthia Carr

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