A six-month campaign to vaccinate the majority of Manitobans against COVID-19 marked a major achievement Wednesday, with 70 per cent of adults now partially immunized against the novel coronavirus.
Johanu Botha, co-lead for the province’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, said while the government and its partners in the rollout missed their target of vaccinating 70 per cent of all eligible Manitobans due to supply challenges, the march toward herd immunity continues to make inroads.
"Today, we have reached another important milestone: 70 per cent of people over the age of 18 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and the percentage of people age 12 and up is not far behind," Botha said.
"Vaccine numbers continue to rise, and that is something... everyone on our team, is thrilled to see."
Provincial data released Wednesday indicated 69.8 per cent of adults had received at least one shot, though the figure was an skewed due to delays in data entry. Of the population 12 years or older, 67.2 per cent had been vaccinated.
Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the vaccine task force, said, as with all things surrounding the novel coronavirus, estimates and predictions change.
"We know now that 70 per cent will not be enough to reach complete herd immunity," Reimer said, adding it is achieved when viral transmission is not possible in a community.
"We don’t have a great estimate yet for the exact number we’ll need to reach, and even if we did, there’s going to be another variant," Reimer said. "And so we’re going to be continually evaluating the science, continually evaluating the effect of these variants, to target our goals and our interventions.
"We, certainly, on the task force have no intention of stopping at 70 per cent, and really do intend to reach 80 per cent or 90 per cent of Manitobans."
Herd immunity is a moving target due to more infectious variants of concern, including the now-dominant B.1.1.7 and emerging B.1.617.2 (delta), which ravaged India.
However, high vaccination rates in many regions of Manitoba will provide public health with options when it comes to restrictions orders, and a offer greater level of protection for the health-care system, Reimer said.
"While we’re working on reopening plans, we don’t intend to wait until we hit that complete definition of herd immunity," Reimer said. "Instead, we’re looking at an incremental approach to reopening where the lowest risk activities and locations would be opened first."
The Delta variant spiked in Manitoba on Tuesday, when the province reported 65 confirmed cases.
A recent study out of England on the Delta variant showed a single dose of the vaccine was less effective against symptomatic disease when compared to B.1.1.7. Protection from two doses, however, was still high.
The expedient rollout of second doses to Manitobans is a priority, Reimer said, but added there is "not really room" to accelerate without additional vaccine supply.
"I agree that the second dose is important, particularly with the Delta variant, but it’s not more important than first doses," Reimer said. "We still need to make sure that as many Manitobans as possible have some protection before we start to focus on those who are already protected getting an additional boost."
Provincial supply projections for Moderna vaccines in June continue to be less than ideal, with only one shipment of 18,100 confirmed to arrive, as of Wednesday.
However, shipments of Pfizer vaccine remain steady, with weekly deliveries of 87,800 doses confirmed through to the end of June.
Reimer said Manitobans who got Moderna for their first dose can take Pfizer for their second, rather than wait. The recommendation remains to get the same type of mRNA vaccine for a second dose, when possible.
"So if your vaccine is not readily available, for example, if you’d have to wait weeks longer to get a Moderna shot compared to when you could book for a Pfizer vaccine, or vice-versa, we want you to book for the first vaccine available," Reimer said.
However, people aged 12 to 17 must take Pfizer for both the first and second dose — as it is the only vaccine approved by Health Canada for that age group.
"We want you to book for the first vaccine available." – Dr. Joss Reimer
In some circumstances, the task force said, clinics may be forced to change the type of mRNA vaccine offered, due to supply.
Botha said clients will be alerted if the vaccine they signed up for will be different than the one offered at the clinic. Clients can choose to reschedule if they want to complete their vaccination series with the same brand, he said.
Meanwhile, the task force has pulled down another 7,500 doses of the viral vector AstraZeneca vaccine from the federal government, to offer to people who want the product for their second shot, and for those who can’t take an mRNA vaccine due to medical reasons.
Previously, the task force said it had relinquished 23,800 AstraZeneca doses allocated to Manitoba.
The task force is developing a strategy to distribute AstraZeneca to doctors and pharmacists based on regional demand, Botha said. Meanwhile, about 6,000 mRNA vaccines will also be provided to about 125 doctors and pharmacists to provide to clients.
When it comes to finding providers offering AstraZeneca shots, the province said people will soon be able to use its online "vaccine finder" map to view locations by vaccine type.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.