PEOPLE with disabilities say it appears the province no longer considers them to have a high risk of catching COVID-19.
On Monday, the province suddenly allowed all Manitobans 40 years of age and older to jump ahead of people with disabilities and medical conditions it had prioritized as high risk a few weeks ago, when the first doses of AstraZeneca were shipped here.
David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, who has cerebral palsy, said he is disappointed.
"Are we a priority or are we not a priority?" said Kron. "The numbers keep changing. All of a sudden folks with cerebral palsy were a priority and then all of a sudden they are not.
"It comes down to how we value people."
Currently, anyone over the age of 52 in the general population and 32 and older for First Nations people, is eligible to get a shot at a super site or pop-up clinic.
Last month, when the first 18,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived, the province piloted a program where only people in a high-risk category could get it. It included people with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, Manitobans with major cardiac problems and respiratory issues, or people who had transplanted organs, as long as they were age 50 to 64. Shortly after, the age was raised to 55 to 64, and then, earlier this month, people aged 69 and over were also allowed to get it.
Then on Monday, only for AstraZeneca, the province followed the lead of Ontario and Alberta and suddenly dropped its eligibility to Manitobans aged 40 and older regardless of their health.
The sudden move, which caught pharmacists by surprise, prompted people to scramble to get the shot at pharmacies and medical clinics.
Kron couldn’t find a place with shots still available.
"They should have worked with Doctors Manitoba and did it just with patients," he said.
Janet Forbes, of Inclusion Winnipeg, which represents Winnipeggers with developmental disabilities, said, "we know of many young adults with intellectual disabilities under the age of 40 who are ready for their shot, and we also know of many parents who would be willing to give up their shot for their children."
"We also know that people with Down syndrome often show signs of premature aging. For example a 30-year-old may have the physiology of someone much older, and may have specific underlying health conditions related to the heart and respiratory system.
"Other provinces and countries have recognized this and have made vaccines a priority for young adults with intellectual disabilities and, in Manitoba, our most vulnerable citizens are counting on us to get this right."
A provincial spokeswoman said while the National Advisory Committee on Immunization makes recommendations on priority populations, each province can adapt them.
"Manitoba has identified its next steps in terms of prioritization, based on evolving vaccine authorizations and recommendations for use, expected shipments (timing and volume) and epidemiology," said the spokeswoman in a statement.
"This includes responding to variants of concern by immunizing people aged 18-plus living in specific communities and people who work in those communities in specified public-facing roles, as they are at increased risk of getting COVID-19.
"People with underlying medical or health issues that puts them at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19 continue to be part of our planning, and we will continue to update Manitobans as eligibility expands."
Meanwhile, Ryan Chan, a pharmacist at the Exchange District Pharmacy, said the first he knew about the province’s change to AstraZeneca eligibility was when his phone started ringing on Monday.
"We have three lines and all were just non-stop," said Chan. "We didn’t know about the movement until it came out. The province didn’t call us."
Chan said his pharmacy had five vials of AstraZeneca, which can be divided into 50 doses of vaccine, and spots to get them were snapped up in minutes.
"We had at least 200 phone calls during the day," he said. "It just tied up the phone lines more than anything. The hard part was it interfered with our normal patients."
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.