Manitoba opens monkeypox vaccination bookings again Supply shortage behind abrupt halt to rollout earlier in week, Roussin says

Manitoba is refusing to reveal how much of the “scarce supply” of monkeypox vaccine it has on hand, even as it announced it has reopened appointment booking after abruptly halting it earlier this week.

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Manitoba is refusing to reveal how much of the “scarce supply” of monkeypox vaccine it has on hand, even as it announced it has reopened appointment booking after abruptly halting it earlier this week.

Only men who have sex with men are currently eligible to be vaccinated against monkeypox in Manitoba, and no cases of the virus have been recorded in the province amid a global outbreak that has prompted calls for a swifter local immunization campaign.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, provides an update on monkeypox vaccination in the province. (Winnipeg Free Press)

The province added more appointment times Thursday afternoon for vaccinations that are expected to be administered starting next week, and will report the number of doses administered on a weekly basis in the future, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Thursday during a virtual news conference that was his first public appearance since July 20.

Eligibility criteria

Vaccination is being offered to people who identify as gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and who meet one of the following criteria:
• 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 or are planning to;
• Have had anonymous sex in the past 21 days or are planning to;
• Or engage in sex work or plan to, either as a worker or a client.
People who are a close contact to someone with monkeypox are also eligible for post-exposure vaccination and should contact their local public health office to schedule a shot.

Because it’s a “relatively scarce resource,” most of Canada’s Imvamune vaccine supply has been sent to provinces that are already seeing widespread cases, and Manitoba is going to keep its own supply numbers under wraps, Roussin said.

“Right now on the number of doses we’re receiving, we’re not going to get involved in reporting that,” he said. “We secured many doses, we planned for clinics and allocated doses accordingly, and as you saw, those had very quick demand for that, so immediately we moved to get more vaccine in the jurisdiction.”

He suggested the lack of supply was the reason appointment booking came to a halt just hours after Manitoba expanded eligibility on Monday to people who haven’t yet been exposed to monkeypox but are at highest risk of being infected. Right now, most of the reported cases are among gay or bisexual men.

The virus spreads primarily via prolonged physical contact — including sex — but is not a sexually transmitted infection. Anyone can become infected, although the current risk is low for the general population in Canada.

Vaccine eligibility is not changing in Manitoba even as more appointments open up, and Roussin said there are no plans to make the vaccine available at doctors’ offices or pharmacies. The vaccine is available in every public-health region, and eligible Manitobans outside of Winnipeg are being advised to contact their local public-health office.

Bren Dixon, a co-ordinator with the Sexuality Education Resource Centre of Manitoba, said it’s not surprising the initial appointments filled up so quickly. The queer community tends to be well-connected nationally and very “pandemic-conscious,” Dixon said, noting many grassroots organizations — including Sunshine House, which held a webinar on the topic last week — have been educating people about monkeypox for several months.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

The queer community tends to be well-connected nationally and very “pandemic-conscious,” Bren Dixon said.

“Queer people have a long history, especially after HIV, of looking after each other and being conscious of our health, and communicating when things are available with one another,” said Dixon, who was able to book a vaccine appointment after setting an alarm, noting it’s not so easy for everyone who is at risk.

Wider vaccine access at the community level would help, he said, particularly considering some men who have sex with men aren’t out and won’t attend a public-health clinic. Cities such as Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, which have already seen significant transmission of monkeypox, have held pop-up clinics at locations geared toward gay men.

SUPPLIED

Will Franklin secured a vaccine appointment for early next week after booking resumed Thursday.

Will Franklin secured a vaccine appointment for early next week after booking resumed Thursday. He was surprised to find appointment slots had already filled up when he tried to book first thing in the morning Tuesday, the second day of expanded eligibility, and said he felt at the time that people who were trying to access the vaccine were being treated “like second-class citizens.”

Only a handful of doses were provided to the province beginning in June, when eligibility was restricted to people who’d likely already been exposed to someone with monkeypox. The province faced criticism for not expanding eligibility sooner to get ahead of the viral spread.

Now, there are calls for the government and public-health leaders to be more transparent about Manitoba’s level of supply and future rollout plans, including its plan for second doses, which are recommended 28 days after the first.

Second-dose appointments aren’t currently being booked.

The NDP and Liberals both called on the government to improve its communication.

“The Stefanson government is keeping people in the dark. If they don’t have enough monkeypox vaccines, they need to be honest about it and step up with a robust communications campaign to fight stigma and protect Manitobans,” Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Thursday.

“It’s clear that there is a breakdown here.” – Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont

“It’s clear that there is a breakdown here. All the money we put into prevention now, we will save in preventing sickness, misery and by avoiding health-care and business costs. We know there are challenges with vaccine access, so if we can’t get vaccines, what is public health going to do instead?”

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara, who uses non-binary pronouns, said they heard from some people who were worried about being unable to access the vaccine. The lack of proactive information coming from the government about monkeypox is “inexcusable,” they said.

“A lot of the questions that I’m getting from people in my constituency and, more broadly across the province, could be very easily answered if the government would simply communicate with them,” Asagwara said, describing it as an opportunity to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic.

DANIEL CRUMP / FREE PRESS FILES

“A lot of the questions that I’m getting from people in my constituency and more broadly across the province could be very easily answered if the government would simply communicate with them,” Uzoma Asagwara said.

Asked what COVID lessons Manitoba can apply to monkeypox, Roussin said it’s important to identify the highest-risk groups without stigmatizing them. Because of how the virus is spreading, he advised people to consider limiting their sexual partners, especially anonymous partners.

The doctor also recommended people avoid skin-to-skin contact with people who display symptoms, maintain good hand hygiene, regularly clean frequently touched objects, refrain from sharing personal itemsand avoid touching bedding or laundry of someone diagnosed with or suspected to have monkeypox.

People without internet access can call Health Links at 204-788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257 to book an appointment, or contact their local public-health office.

katie.may@winnipegfreepress.com

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

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

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