Manitoba expands bivalent COVID-19 vaccine eligibility

Manitoba is starting its push to get all adults boosted with a vaccine that targets the Omicron variant of COVID-19, but the efficacy of the province’s messaging is being questioned.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/09/2022 (181 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba is starting its push to get all adults boosted with a vaccine that targets the Omicron variant of COVID-19, but the efficacy of the province’s messaging is being questioned.

Bivalent vaccine doses are now available to all adults in Manitoba, and appointment booking begins Thursday for anyone age 18 and up, officials announced.

Provincial chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin emphasized Manitobans, especially those at high risk, should get boosted with the bivalent vaccine.

“We want to be clear (that) COVID is still with us. And we’re moving into a respiratory virus season where COVID isn’t going to be the only virus that’s going to be affecting us, and these vaccines are still the best way to protect ourselves from especially the severe outcomes,” he said during a virtual news conference Wednesday afternoon.

For the strongest immune response, get the bivalent vaccine six months after your last COVID-19 shot, Roussin recommended.

The provincial government hasn’t provided any recent data on fourth-dose vaccine uptake, but it’s clear too few eligible are getting boosted.

“At this point, what we’re seeing is not the type of uptake we were hoping for, but it’s really early in our campaign,” Roussin said.

He noted there is a lag in data entry, which means the province is not immediately aware of the number of booked appointments or the number of fourth doses administered.

Only three per cent of Manitoba’s initial bivalent vaccine doses were administered in the first week it was made available.

Starting Sept. 14, the vaccine was offered only to people 65 and older, Indigenous residents 18 and older, as well as all health-care workers, first responders, personal care home residents, inmates and immunocompromised people.

The initial supply from the federal government was expected to be more than 105,000 doses. As of Sept. 19, 3,216 doses of bivalent vaccines had been administered, the provincial government said Wednesday in response to Free Press inquiries.

“I’m worried about the uptake and the mixed messaging.”

The provincial ad campaign to encourage bivalent vaccine uptake is expected to begin next week. However, uptake has waned with each additional COVID-19 vaccine dose push and clear public information is necessary, said Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr.

“I’m worried about the uptake and the mixed messaging,” Carr said, adding a COVID-19 infection is not a substitute for vaccination.

The novel coronavirus is not at the endemic stage yet, but some leaders continue to offer confusing messaging about the pandemic, Carr said. She called on the province to use social media and short, friendly verbal messages from Manitoba public health leaders to encourage further vaccination.

“The more you do to protect yourself, the better, but I think we’ve dropped the ball on the messaging.”

As of Sept. 22, any adult in Manitoba can get the bivalent vaccine — as long as it’s been at least three months since their last COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The province’s communication with health-care workers on the bivalent vaccine has been effective, but more public information is always better, Doctors Manitoba president Dr. Candace Bradshaw said.

“I have had plenty of communication from (public health) in the last month or two months on rolling out this new bivalent vaccine and some of the others — infant Moderna vaccines and so on. So, their communication with us as health-care workers, in family physician clinics, in particular, has been actually better than I’ve seen it in the entire pandemic,” she said.

“When it comes to public information, I think more information is always better, and it would be great if they did a refresher.”

On Wednesday, Roussin was asked to respond to comments made by deputy chief public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal, who earlier this month said, “It’s OK to get infected,” while trying to make the point many Manitobans have already contracted the virus and severe outcomes are trending downward.

Atwal’s comment was taken out of context, Roussin said. In context, the remarks didn’t minimize the harm of getting infected.

Booking for newly eligible Manitobans begins at 9 a.m. online or by phone at 1-844-626-8222.

The downtown Winnipeg vaccine super-site at the convention centre closed last week, and has been replaced with a clinic at 1680 Notre Dame Ave.

Individuals can also book appointments by contacting their preferred pharmacy or medical clinic directly, the provincial government stated. The exact number of doses delivered to pharmacies and doctors’ offices in Manitoba hasn’t been released, but that rollout is already underway.

Manitoba sent a supply of 9,800 bivalent doses to First Nations communities, the province stated.

Children aren’t yet eligible for the bivalent vaccine, but five- to 17-year-olds can get a booster shot of the monovalent vaccine.

— with files from Malak Abas

Katie May

Katie May

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


Updated on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 2:17 PM CDT: adds quotes from Dr. Brent Roussin

Updated on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 2:55 PM CDT: Fixes typo

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