For Winnipeg Goldeyes general manager Andrew Collier — and other Manitobans 40 years of age and older — it's batter up to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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For Winnipeg Goldeyes general manager Andrew Collier — and other Manitobans 40 years of age and older — it's batter up to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On Monday, the province lowered its age eligibility for AstraZeneca to 40. It also opened eligibility to be vaccinated at a super site or pop-up clinic to age 54 and older; for First Nations people, the number moved to age 34 or older.

"I've always been very afraid of needles and shots, but I'll do whatever it takes," the 51-year-old Collier said, minutes after setting up a Tuesday appointment at a local pharmacy to get his first vaccination against COVID-19.

"I'll just take a deep breath and get it. The good outweighs the momentary pain for sure," said Andrew Collier, Goldeyes general manager.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

"I'll just take a deep breath and get it. The good outweighs the momentary pain for sure," said Andrew Collier, Goldeyes general manager.

"I'll just take a deep breath and get it. The good outweighs the momentary pain for sure."

Khrista Vogt of Steinbach admits she was so emotional when she walked into the local Sobeys grocery store to get her shot Monday, she burst into tears.

Manitoba rollout reaches 340,000-dose mark

The Manitoba government Monday lowered the eligibility age for COVID-19 vaccination to 54 for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots — and opened up AstraZeneca to anyone 40 or older in an attempt to drive down inventory.

The province reported 4,459 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered to people Sunday. At the end of day Sunday, a total of 341,926 doses had been given thus far in Manitoba, including 272,104 first doses.

The Manitoba government Monday lowered the eligibility age for COVID-19 vaccination to 54 for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots — and opened up AstraZeneca to anyone 40 or older in an attempt to drive down inventory.

The province reported 4,459 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered to people Sunday. At the end of day Sunday, a total of 341,926 doses had been given thus far in Manitoba, including 272,104 first doses.

Following another slow Sunday at immunization clinics, Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson said the eligibility criteria for the AstraZeneca shot would be changed to remove prioritized health conditions.

“Tens of thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine remain in clinics and pharmacies across the province, which is why we're expanding the eligibility criteria for the vaccine,” Stefanson said in a release Monday.

The vaccine product will only be offered to those 40 or over, regardless of eligibility due to occupation.

AstraZeneca/Covishield shots are offered at medical clinics and pharmacies and people can book appointments to be vaccinated directly with their health-care provider. (A list of participating clinics and pharmacies is available at gov.mb.ca.)

According to provincial data, the province had used 70 per cent of its current vaccine inventory, as of Sunday.

Officials estimated there were 56,188 doses of AstraZeneca in the province to be administered as of Sunday night, and another 36,877 of Moderna were being administered by First Nations partners.

Meanwhile, the province said its inventory of 49,263 doses will be given at mass vaccination clinics, pop-up clinics and through focused immunization teams — which will visit 27 congregate living settings, including the Winnipeg Remand Centre and Manitoba Youth Centre this week — by April 26.

Later this week, the province will receive 37,400 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Age eligibility criteria to be immunized at a pop-up clinic or mass vaccination centre was also lowered Monday to 54 for members of the general public and 34 for First Nations people.

Additional changes to eligibility criteria are expected to be announced Wednesday to prioritize adults living in communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

As of April 18, nearly 84 per cent of Manitobans between 80 and 89 years old had received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

About 76 per cent of Manitobans between 70 and 79 had received at least one dose of vaccine. Forty-two per cent of people between 60 and 69 years old have had one shot.

Provincial data shows the single greatest day for immunizations was April 1, when a total of 9,484 doses were given across Manitoba.

"The pharmacist was so concerned, he asked me if I was afraid of the needle, and I told him, no, I'm so thankful," said the 47-year-old.

"It has been a year of worrying whether I was going to get (sick) or if a loved one was going to get it. This is a small part towards the hope this will end."

While Manitoba doctors and pharmacists welcomed the increased eligibility, both groups said they need more available doses.

"Vaccine supply is really the biggest issue," said Dr. Cory Baillie, president of Doctors Manitoba.

"We have close to 200 offices which have offered to give the vaccines, but only about 30 have available vaccine... We're very glad that the AZ vaccine is now available for age 40 and over, but we just hope we can get more supply."

Baillie said Doctors Manitoba has asked the province to allow members to give Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to their patients. The association has been told the next shipment of AstraZeneca to the province won't be until late next month, he said.

"Vaccine supply is really the biggest issue." – Dr. Cory Baillie, president of Doctors Manitoba

Barret Procyshyn, past-president of Pharmacists Manitoba, said members immediately began getting "a very high volume of calls" after the province made the announcement Monday.

"It's awesome. We just need more supply... some pharmacies received additional supply over the past two weeks. Our pharmacy received 200 doses. We started vaccinating today — we will run out by Friday," he said.

"The criteria is simple, it's fantastic. People are comfortable with their pharmacist and coming into their pharmacy."

Manitoba is following the lead of Ontario and Alberta, which expanded the vaccine's eligibility to the same age group on the weekend.

Initially, when the first 18,000 doses of AstraZeneca arrived in the province, it was reserved for a high-risk medical and disability population of people age 50-64 on two priority lists.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin admitted Monday officials have been hearing reports of vaccine hesitancy with AstraZeneca.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin admitted Monday officials have been hearing reports of vaccine hesitancy with AstraZeneca.

The province later raised eligibility to 55, after reports of rare occurrences of dangerous blood clots, particularly among younger women in Europe. There have since been studies examining the risks of the vaccine versus the risk of unvaccinated people contracting COVID-19.

"Based on all of the evidence available internationally to date, we continue to believe benefits of the AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine to protect against COVID-19 outweigh any potential risks," said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the province's vaccine implementation task force.

"Expanding the criteria will help us reach more Manitobans, particularly those who may face challenges or face barriers in going to a super site or pop-up clinic."

"Following the fundamentals but also getting vaccinated as soon as possible with whatever vaccine you’re eligible for is going to help us lift these restrictions sooner." – Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin admitted Monday officials have been hearing reports of vaccine hesitancy with AstraZeneca.

"What I can say is that, with the risk of this third wave, the transmission we’re seeing right now, that the risk of having a severe outcome to COVID far outweighs the very, very rare outcomes of… a very small number of these blood clots are reported throughout the world," said Roussin.

"We continue to lower our age eligibility at the super sites and, at the same time, we’re going to go down lower as safely as we can with AstraZeneca. Following the fundamentals but also getting vaccinated as soon as possible with whatever vaccine you’re eligible for is going to help us lift these restrictions sooner."

— with files from Danielle Da Silva

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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