First responders, and all adults who live in geographic areas in the province hit hardest by COVID-19, will soon be eligible to get a vaccine.
During her opening remarks before a telephone town hall on Manitoba’s immunization strategy Thursday, Health Minister Heather Stefanson announced looming changes to the COVID-19 vaccination criteria.
"There is a third wave beginning in Manitoba and it is critical to protect those most at risk and those disproportionately affected," Stefanson said.
Front-line police officers and firefighters who work anywhere in the province will be added to the eligibility list in the near future. In yet-to-be-announced hot spots, Manitobans aged 18 and older, and people with front-line jobs that are public-facing, including teachers, will be prioritized.
The minister told callers that specific details, including information about which geographic areas are deemed hot spots and when appointments will open for first responders, will be made public next Wednesday.
A team of experts is pouring over local data and statistics from other provinces to come up with a plan to identify geographic areas and how front-line workers who are prioritized in the upcoming eligibility changes will be identified, added Joss Reimer, medical lead for the vaccine task force.
Stefanson and Reimer were joined by the province’s top doctor, Dr. Brent Roussin, and co-lead of the vaccine task force, Johanu Botha, to field questions from Winnipeg residents about the vaccine rollout via the phone.
"I know my members are going to be extremely happy that we have now been included on the priority list. This is something we’ve been advocating for for quite some time," said Moe Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association.
Fifty to 60 police officers have tested positive for the virus since it was first detected in Manitoba, Sabourin said, while noting hundreds of members have had to quarantine as a result of an exposure at work.
The hour-long town hall was the second of two held this week; the initial one, which was held Tuesday, involved participants from northern and rural communities.
Questions about the timing of second doses and eligibility criteria dominated both town halls.
One Winnipeg caller posed a question about what considerations are being given to move teachers, truck drivers and grocery clerks up on the vaccine priority list. Another asked why public transit employees are not being prioritized in the new eligibility expansion Thursday.
In response, Stefanson said the task force is looking at ways to vaccinate those who are at high risk of spreading the virus and cited the National Advisory Committee on Immunization stance on priority groups.
The current list of vaccine eligibility criteria in Manitoba includes: the general population aged 59 or older; First Nation people aged 39 or older; health-care professionals and home-care staff; residents and staff in congregate living settings; and people who work in laboratories that handle COVID-19 specimens.
Following these high-risk populations — which are all listed in the first phase of the national guidelines on vaccine rollouts — is adults in racialized and marginalized communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and then, police officers and firefighters.
Essential workers who cannot work virtually are next in line, per the national guidelines.
At the end of the town hall Thursday, Stefanson encouraged all Manitobans to get the jab once they are eligible.
The moderator on Thursday night’s call indicated tens of thousands of people participated.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.