Doctors are incensed the province has expanded the eligibility criteria for people to get the AstraZeneca vaccine when they have so little supply with which to inoculate people who have high-risk illnesses.

Doctors are incensed the province has expanded the eligibility criteria for people to get the AstraZeneca vaccine when they have so little supply with which to inoculate people who have high-risk illnesses.

They join the long list of Manitobans who have questioned the vaccine rollout.

"It is so frustrating to us," said one doctor, who asked that her name not be published because she worries the province might cut off her clinic from getting more vaccine.

"Two weeks ago, we were given 50 doses, so each doctor at this clinic picked 12 to 14 high-priority patients. That's not many because we see 7,500 patients.

Clinics and pharmacies received a new shipment of 54,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be administered to people 55 to 64 with serious health conditions, and anyone over the age of 64. (Matthias Schrader / The Associated Press files)</p>

Clinics and pharmacies received a new shipment of 54,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be administered to people 55 to 64 with serious health conditions, and anyone over the age of 64. (Matthias Schrader / The Associated Press files)

"But since then, we have gotten nothing. And we've been told today we would get nothing, and nothing for mid-April. At this point, it seems we are looking at May now before getting more.

"It just doesn't make sense."

The doctor doesn't understand why the province expanded the number of people who can get the AstraZeneca vaccine when the supply is so tight. Before Wednesday, it was available to people between the ages of 55 and 64 who have certain health conditions. On Wednesday, the province announced it would offer it to people 65 and older as well.

"We don't understand the decision on how the vaccines are allocated," she said.

"Family physicians are better positioned to know peoples' chronic health conditions. This shouldn't be done haphazardly."

Two weeks ago, the government said the first 18,000 doses of AstraZeneca would be used in a pilot project in which only the most high-risk patients would receive it. Recipients had to be aged 50 to 64 in the general population or aged 30 to 64 in the First Nations population. They also had to have a condition such as cardiac and respiratory conditions, Down syndrome, or severe asthma.

"Family physicians are better positioned to know peoples' chronic health conditions. This shouldn't be done haphazardly."

Because of the potential risk of blood clots, the age criteria was later raised to 55 for the general population who had high-risk conditions.

But on Wednesday, the province changed the AstraZeneca criteria further by allowing anyone aged 65 and older, without high-risk conditions, to get the vaccine, with priority being given to people who are unable to get vaccinated at a provincial super-site or a pop-up clinic.

A second doctor, who practises at a clinic with nine other physicians, which has 25,000 patients, said that just means his patients — many with life-threatening conditions — are being pushed back further in line.

Rules change

Manitobans who are 62 and older can book a vaccine appointment at a provincially run clinic.

On Wednesday, the provincial government lowered the age of eligibility to people who are 62 or older, and First Nations people who are at least 42.

Previously, the age eligibility criteria was 65 or older, and had been at that tier since March 22.

Manitobans who are 62 and older can book a vaccine appointment at a provincially run clinic.

On Wednesday, the provincial government lowered the age of eligibility to people who are 62 or older, and First Nations people who are at least 42.

Previously, the age eligibility criteria was 65 or older, and had been at that tier since March 22.

The province estimates there are about 125,000 people between the ages of 60 and 69 in Manitoba.

As of Wednesday, 24,963 people in that age group had received their first dose.

The province has decided to offer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people 65 or older, in addition to people between the ages of 55 and 64 with certain health conditions, at doctors' offices and pharmacies. Anyone between the ages of 62 and 64 without the health conditions listed by the province, cannot receive the AstraZeneca product.

The province also announced it will host two telephone town halls with members of the vaccine task force on April 13 at 6:30 p.m. for rural Manitobans and April 15 at 6:30 p.m. for Winnipeggers. Registration is required through https://engagemb.ca/.

Immunizations teams will visit more than 100 congregate living facilities this week. The province did not provide an estimate of how many people will be vaccinated by the teams.

As of Wednesday, the province had received 407,130 vaccine doses and had administered 222,130, about 54.5 per cent of its inventory.

Appointments for mass vaccination clinics and future pop-up clinics can be booked by going to https://protectmb.ca or calling 1-844-626-8222.

To find a clinic or pharmacy where you can get a vaccine, go to the province's vaccine finder website at wfp.to/vaccinefinder and type in your address.

— Danielle Da Silva

The doctor, whose clinic received only 100 doses two weeks ago, said he also could vaccinate more high-risk people if the province would just provide more vaccines instead of expanding the criteria.

"There are people who need the vaccine more than them," said the doctor, "I have about 500 patients I would have given the vaccine to, but I had only 10 patients I could choose.

"It is just horrible. I had a list of my patients and I had to go through and decide who would definitely die if they got COVID — how do I decide that?

"And, if a clinic like us has 25,000 patients and we are not getting more vaccines, who the hell is getting them?"

A provincial spokesman said 52,000 doses of AstraZeneca were sent to 293 medical clinics and pharmacies this week while another 11,000 vaccines will go out to another 43 places when the federal government ships them to Manitoba.

"We would send out even more doses if received from the federal government," said the spokesman.

"We also know that there is a high demand for the vaccine in medical clinics and pharmacies and we recognize that some providers are frustrated about how much vaccine they’ve received, when they are getting vaccine and the notice they are getting about the deliveries.

"We’ve had to make choices about how we allocate the vaccine. Our principles need to ensure all regions have equitable access to vaccine, the historic flu vaccinations done by our partners are respected and adjustments can still made for unique circumstances as warranted.

"We will continue to work with stakeholders to provide information and supplies needed to provide high quality care."

"Many patients are hesitant to attend large government-run mass immunization clinics, and would prefer to see their doctor to talk about and receive the vaccine." — Keir Johnson, a spokesman for Doctors Manitoba

Keir Johnson, a spokesman for Doctors Manitoba, said they understand vaccine supply is limited from the federal government, but physicians have the ability to immunize the Manitobans most at risk for severe injury or death from the virus.

"Many patients are hesitant to attend large government-run mass immunization clinics, and would prefer to see their doctor to talk about and receive the vaccine," said Johnson.

"We want to work collaboratively with provincial officials to help ensure Manitobans can get immunized as quickly as possible, focusing first on those most at risk from this pandemic."

Johnson said Doctors Manitoba also understands many other seniors are also at risk.

"While doctors are focused on ensuring those most at risk get the vaccine first, the expansion to include those 65-plus is seen as a positive step forward as this population is also at increased risk too," he said.

"With a limited supply of vaccines, however, doctors now have an even more difficult task of ensuring their handful of doses get to their most at risk patients."

Meanwhile, Barret Procyshyn, a pharmacist in Dauphin and past president of Pharmacists Manitoba, said they also could vaccinate more people if they had more vaccines.

"My biggest concern is vaccine supply," said Procyshyn, who has 2,000 people on a waiting list to be vaccinated.

"We had 200 doses last month. We go by what patients are telling you (to determine if people qualify for the vaccine). You make an educated decision.

"I think we've done a good job."

Procyshyn says his pharmacy gave out 2,300 flu shots "so we're prepared and ready to go. We would even do a drive-thru. We would do anything if it would speed up people getting the vaccine in their arms.

"Now it is time to put the pedal to the metal."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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