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Province pivots, offers monkeypox vax to high-risk population

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Manitobans most at risk of being infected with monkeypox will be able to book online immunization appointments starting Monday.

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Manitobans most at risk of being infected with monkeypox will be able to book online immunization appointments starting Monday.

After health experts called on the province to act proactively and offer preventative doses of the vaccine it has had since June rather than wait for the virus to appear here, the Progressive Conservative government issued a press release Friday saying it will expand eligibility criteria and offer it at three Winnipeg sites.

“It should not have taken this long,” said NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara, noting the government didn’t act until it was pressed.

A health care worker prepares a monkeypox vaccine in Montreal, Saturday, July 23, 2022. Manitobans most at risk of being infected with monkeypox will be able to book online immunization appointments starting Monday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press files)

“I feel very strongly that the government putting out any information is a direct result of the pressure being put on them by the public and by public-health expertise,” said Asagwara. The health critic called Friday’s press release “the bare minimum” and questioned why high-profile health-care leaders such as Health Minister Audrey Gordon or chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin did not present the news and answer questions.

On Friday, Gordon declined to answer questions about the rollout — how many vaccine doses Manitoba has, and why preventative shots weren’t made available sooner. At an unrelated event, she said she wouldn’t comment before a press release was issued later in the day.

The announcement said Manitoba worked with the federal government to secure additional doses of the Imvamune vaccine but did not indicate that’s the reason it will offer it preventavely and not just to people who’ve been exposed to infections.

The province said those eligible for the vaccine are most at risk of infection — gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, who also meet at least one other requirement:

• Have received a diagnosis of chlamydia, gonorrhea and/or syphilis in the past two months.

• Have had two or more sexual partners in the last 21 days.

• Have attended locations for sexual contact (such as bath houses or sex clubs) or are planning to.

• Have had anonymous sex in the past 21 days or are planning to.

• Engage in sex work or plan to, either as a worker or a client.

Starting Monday, appointments can be booked online or by phone for people who meet the eligibility criteria. The shots will be offered at Klinic Community Health (167 Sherbrook St.), Access Winnipeg West (280 Booth Dr.) and Our Own Health Centre (230 Osborne St.).

Anyone can become infected with monkeypox, which the World Health Organization has declared a global health threat, but infections thus far have been primarily reported among men who have sex with men, Friday’s press release said. To date, there have been no confirmed cases in the province.

The province failed to take advantage of that “window of opportunity” before cases are reported in Manitoba to roll out the vaccine and inform the public, said Asagwara.

“After the pandemic and everything that we have learned as a result of COVID it’s inexcusable that the government continues to be poorly reactive and deliberately leaps over important opportunities to be proactive,” said Asagwara, a nurse.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont asked why it’s taken so long to make the vaccine available to high-risk residents.

“The number of cases are doubling every two weeks, it is highly infectious… and there’s a vaccine that can prevent it,” said Lamont, who wrote an open letter to the health minister a week ago urging the government to do more to prepare for the arrival of the virus.

“Why wait?”

Several provinces have reported cases, including Manitoba neighbours Ontario and Saskatchewan.

“We live in a city with a Level 4 (National Microbiology Laboratory) and a university with some of the best public-health and infectious-disease experts in the world, and they have been ignored,” said Lamont.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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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