Province widens fourth-dose eligibility
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This article was published 02/09/2022 (211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are being released to the general public, but the Manitoba government is advising people to wait to roll up their sleeves until shots targeting Omicron are readily available.
“You might not get your vaccine right off the bat, but in due time, in a short period of time, you’ll get that vaccine. You will be protected,” deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said during a Friday afternoon update.
The provincial government will begin taking appointments for Moderna’s bivalent COVID-19 booster shot next week.
The vaccine, which targets the Omicron subvariant BA.1 and the original strain of the coronavirus, was approved Thursday by Health Canada for people 18 years old and up.
Initially, Manitoba will have a limited supply, with 27,650 doses expected to arrive next week, followed by a delivery of 77,600 the week of Sept. 12. The province is rolling out the shots to groups at the highest risk first.
Current eligibility includes people 65 or older; Indigenous people 18 or older; adults with higher-risk medical conditions; adult health-care workers; and personal care home and congregate living facility residents.
The booster shot is intended for people who have completed a primary series of the vaccine (typically two or more doses).
People ages 12 and up who are not currently eligible for the bivalent vaccine can choose to receive a fourth dose of another COVID-19 vaccine, as of Sept. 12. However, Atwal said public health recommends people wait until criteria for the bivalent shot is expanded.
Bivalent booster booking
More information on how to book bivalent booster shots will be provided next week, according to the province.
People should wait six months from their last COVID-19 shot or infection to get the booster, but those who meet criteria can receive the bivalent vaccine after three months if they feel at increased risk, according to public health.
Vaccines will be available through doctors offices, pharmacies and public health clinics.
Walk-in appointments will no longer be available at the RBC Convention Centre after next Saturday, and the last appointments there will happen Sept. 17.
A new clinic is opening at 1680 Notre Dame Ave., near Keewatin Street, for appointments only, starting Sept. 20.
Eligible people can book appointments through the online vaccine booking tool, the vaccine call centre at 1-844-626-8222, or by contacting medical clinics and pharmacies directly.
All adults could be eligible within six to eight weeks, depending on vaccine supply and uptake, the doctor said. Public health also anticipates a bivalent vaccine will be available for children ages 12 to 17, pending approvals.
“Don’t fret if you have to wait for your appointment for a couple of weeks,” Atwal said, noting there is good vaccine coverage in Manitoba and blood sample studies show 87.5 per cent of residents have already had COVID-19.
Opposition health critic Uzoma Asagwara called on the government to provide a clear timeline for when all Manitobans will be eligible for the bivalent vaccine.
“Many families will be eager to get the new bivalent shot as school and flu season approach,” the NDP MLA said. “They deserve to know when the bivalent will be available so they can decide if they want to wait or get a booster now.”
Currently, the Omicron subvariant BA.5 is the dominant strain circulating in Manitoba, Atwal said. Early studies have shown the recently approved bivalent vaccine also helps to prevent severe outcomes from BA.5 infection, he added.
American authorities have already approved a different bivalent vaccine that targets the BA.4 and BA.5 strains circulating in North America.
“All of those variants within Omicron are like brothers and sisters, so it should be just as impactful for those,” Atwal said of the vaccine currently en route to Manitoba. “There will be other variants coming as well. The bivalent will provide that broad coverage.”
Going forward, Atwal said people should not be focused on COVID-19 infection, but on the severe outcomes associated with the disease, and likened the current iteration of the virus to a common cold.
“It’s OK to get infected. You’re building your natural immunity, so that’s good. We have spread in the community. That’s OK. What we aren’t seeing is the severe outcomes to the extent that they were there previously with the wild type or with Alpha or Delta (variants),” Atwal said.
“That is because Omicron became less aggressive, caused less severe outcomes, but also because we have such good vaccine uptake.”
While severe outcomes from COVID-19 may be on the decline, immunology professor Deanna Santer said it is important not to play down long-term complications and serious side-effects experienced by some people.
“It’s a very distinct virus that attacks more than our lungs and we shouldn’t want to be taking a risk, that we could be one of those people that develop much more severe consequences,” said Santer, who is the GSK chair in immunology of infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba.
“We have to think about more than just those who end up in the ICU, and think about how we can prevent more people being unable to work and other things for many months because of how it’s affecting their system outside of the lungs.”
Staying up to date on vaccination will help reduce pressure on hospitals heading into the respiratory virus season, Atwal said, but the number of people currently being treated for COVID-19 is small.
“The vaccine, the treatments all protect our acute care system, so we’re going to continue to stress the importance of accessing those vaccines.”
— with files from Dylan Robertson
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
Updated on Friday, September 2, 2022 4:56 PM CDT: Adds extra info, quotes, photos, updates formatting