Seniors in Manitoba care homes will soon be eligible for COVID-19 booster shots, starting with staff and residents of care homes on First Nations.
On Monday, Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead on the province’s vaccine task force, and Dr. Marcia Anderson, public health lead for the First Nations pandemic response team, said third doses of the vaccine will be made available to 200 residents and 400 staff of 10 First Nations care homes this week.
"Throughout this pandemic, the data has shown that First Nations people, as well as older people, face the greatest risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19," Anderson said.
The province declared an outbreak last month at the George M. Guimond Care Centre in Sagkeeng First Nation, primarily among fully vaccinated residents. Two people died and three people were hospitalized.
"What we have seen in the pandemic so far, the losses faced by the people of Sagkeeng First Nation, it's clear why an early expansion to these facilities is needed to protect our people and our communities," Anderson said, adding staff will be vaccinated to help maintain stable staffing levels in remote communities.
Third doses will be made available in October at other care homes, Reimer said.
"Third doses should be recommended for those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, because they are not able to develop as strong immune response to the vaccine compared to the general population," Reimer said, adding studies have shown overrepresentation in breakthrough cases and hospitalizations for people with compromised immune systems.
"The good news is that the studies also show many of these same groups had a much better immune response after three doses."
Reimer said immune response may be slightly weaker for older populations as time goes on and antibody levels naturally fade in the body.
"Unfortunately, there is still a lot of the virus circulating in Canada and around the world, so even a normal decrease in antibodies, in a group that already had a somewhat weaker immune response, could translate to more infections and more severe outcomes," Reimer said.
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Reimer said the province has not noticed an increase in infections among the care home population yet, however data from countries such as the United Kingdom indicate severe infections could rise in future.
Reimer noted young and healthy people have not yet shown evidence of "waning immunity," adding there is "zero benefit" to a third dose for most of the population. Staff at care homes outside of First Nation communities will not be offered booster shots.
Third doses were already available to Manitobans with immunosuppressed conditions, those who want to travel to countries where full vaccination with the same vaccine is required, and those who have received vaccines that haven't been approved by Health Canada.
Meantime, as Pfizer enters the final testing for a small dose of its mRNA vaccine for children aged five to 11, the province is keeping its eye on expanding vaccine eligibility to elementary school-aged children. Younger children will likely be offered doses that are one-third the amount of regular doses for people aged 12 and up.
Julia-Simone Rutgers Reporter
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.