The number of Manitobans getting their first COVID-19 vaccine has slowed to a trickle.
Slightly more than 71 per cent of Manitobans age 12 and up have had their first dose. It's an increase from 67 per cent two weeks ago.
However, the rate of people getting their first shot has dropped sharply in recent weeks, even as the province ramps up its vaccine rollout to more than 20,000 doses a day (mostly for people getting their second dose).
The question now is: can Manitoba fully vaccinate 80 per cent of its eligible population this summer, the level many experts say has to be reached (or even surpassed) to achieve herd immunity and return to normal life?
Over the past week, the average number of people getting a first dose was less than 2,500 per day. That’s about half of what was administered the previous week, and one- third of what was doled out during the first week of June. It’s a fraction of the 10,000-15,000 first shots administered per day in May.
A decline in the number of first doses was expected as the proportion of people receiving a first shot approached 70 per cent.
If the rate continues at its current pace, Manitoba could reach the 80 per cent benchmark by the end of July. That would be slightly ahead of the province’s projection of mid-August. However, if the rate continues to fall, it may take more than the summer to hit 80 per cent.
Until a few months ago, most infectious disease experts estimated 70 to 75 per cent of the eligible population would have to be fully immunized to end the pandemic. After more virulent strains of SARS-CoV-2 entered the picture, the consensus is now more like 80 to 85 per cent.
Manitoba’s vaccine task force has not set a hard target. Dr. Joss Reimer, task force clinical lead, has said only she would be happy to see it reach 80 to 90 per cent.
Government has already offered some incentives to boost uptake, including the creation of a vaccine card that provides fully immunized people with certain freedoms (such as visiting nursing homes or being exempt from self-isolation when returning from other provinces).
It’s clear more will need to be done, especially for younger and middle–aged Manitobans.
Walk-in services have also been expanded (although many are using them to get second doses faster).
It’s clear more will need to be done, especially for younger and middle-aged Manitobans.
Vaccine uptake for people over age 60 has been remarkably high: 86 per cent of those aged 60-69 have had at least one shot. Just over 94 per cent of Manitobans 70 and up have received their first dose. Three-quarters of people in their 80s are fully immunized, and well over half of people in their 70s have received a second dose.
The numbers are less promising for those under 60.
Almost three-quarters of Manitobans aged 50-59 have at least one dose. However, uptake in that age bracket has declined to less than a percentage point a week.
Manitobans in their 40s hit the 70 per cent mark over the weekend, but far fewer of them are getting their first shot compared to a few weeks ago.
The regional differences remain stark.
The percentage of first doses among people in their 20s and 30s (now at 60 and 63 per cent, respectively) continues to grow at a steady pace. It's still too early to tell when it may plateau. Just over 40 per cent of youth aged 10-19 (the age cohort used by the province) have their first shot, up from 31 per cent two weeks ago.
The regional differences remain stark.
Many communities in the Southern Health region are still well below 50 per cent, as vaccine hesitancy continues to be a challenge. Some areas in the North are also below 50 per cent. It’s highest in Winnipeg at 74 per cent, although there are pockets in the capital that remain low.
It’s clear the province will have to beef up incentives if it wants at least 80 per cent of Manitobans fully immunized this summer. It may mean withholding certain freedoms from those who can’t prove they are fully immunized.
That’s more coercion than incentive, but it may be the only way to get back to normal.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.