Opinion

The number of Manitobans stepping up for their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has grown steadily over the past month. But uptake hasn’t been as fast as it should be, especially with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

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The number of Manitobans stepping up for their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has grown steadily over the past month. But uptake hasn’t been as fast as it should be, especially with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

The province needs to do a better job of highlighting the critical need for Manitobans to get the third shot.

A good place to start would be for Manitoba Health to publish data showing how third doses have reduced the risk of hospitalization and death compared with two shots. Right now, the province compares risk factors on its online dashboard between the fully vaccinated (two doses or more) and the unvaccinated. The risk factors between the two are stark: the unvaccinated are nine times more likely to be hospitalized and 26 times more likely to end up in an ICU than those with two doses or more. They are 17 times more likely to die from the disease.

Even as vaccine efficacy wanes after two doses, it still provides some protection against COVID–19 infection: the unvaccinated are three times more likely to test positive than those with two shots.

Even as vaccine efficacy wanes after two doses, it still provides some protection against COVID-19 infection: the unvaccinated are three times more likely to test positive than those with two shots.

Still, a third dose provides far more protection. The problem is, public-health officials don’t publish data on risk factors for hospitalization and death after three doses compared with two. It would be useful if they did.

Nearly a quarter of eligible Manitobans have now received a third dose of the vaccine. That’s decent uptake, considering only 10 per cent were triple-vaxxed three weeks ago. But we’re not seeing the same urgency around third doses that we saw when the vaccine rollout picked up steam last spring (when around 20,000 doses were administered some days). About 10,000 third doses per day are now being doled out.

Considering the urgency around preserving hospital capacity, the province should be doing everything possible to accelerate that rollout.

Publishing statistics that show the effectiveness of three doses compared to two would go a long way towards encouraging more people to get triple-vaxxed.

The province provides some online data on the power of third doses. Over the past six weeks, only 24 Manitobans who were triple vaxxed (out of 276,639) were admitted to hospital with COVID-19. That’s about nine per 100,000. Of the 760,900 Manitobans with two doses, 139 were hospitalized (18 per 100,000). The difference between three doses and no doses at all is even greater.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, though, nor is it entirely accurate. The numbers have to be calculated throughout the six-week period and they have to be age standardized. The province does that number-crunching for people with two doses and compares them with the unvaccinated. They should do the same comparison between two and three doses.

Releasing daily, accurate and relevant data on the benefits of vaccines is more important than ever, especially with the number of breakthrough cases from the Omicron variant. It’s easy for the public to lose confidence in the effectiveness of vaccines when fully immunized people are testing positive for COVID-19 and some, albeit a minority, are ending up in hospital. People tend to get influenced by anecdotal information when the focus should be on the overall data.

It’s easy for the public to lose confidence in the effectiveness of vaccines when fully immunized people are testing positive for COVID–19 and some, albeit a minority, are ending up in hospital.

It’s unlikely the small minority of those who refuse to get vaccinated will change their minds about getting the shot, no matter how much accurate information governments and infectious-disease experts throw at them. About 85 per cent of Manitobans over the age of five have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That means we could see 85 to 90 per cent of eligible Manitobans get fully immunized over time (as more kids aged 5-11 are vaccinated). That would be good coverage, as long as eligible Manitobans get their third dose.

Most of the remaining 10 to 15 per cent who refuse to get vaccinated have either lost their power of reason (or never had it in the first place) or have become so indoctrinated, the spell they’re under will never be broken.

For the rest of Manitobans, the importance of getting a third dose as quickly as possible can’t be overstated. It’s the best chance we have of fighting this virus.

Providing relevant data on the effectiveness of a third shot would go a long way towards expanding that coverage sooner.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.