Some front-line essential workers — including police and firefighters — will get early access to the COVID-19 vaccine, as Manitoba debates which communities should also be prioritized with the limited supply it has on hand.

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Some front-line essential workers — including police and firefighters — will get early access to the COVID-19 vaccine, as Manitoba debates which communities should also be prioritized with the limited supply it has on hand.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the provincial COVID-19 vaccine task force, said Manitoba intends to offer the vaccine to all adults living in areas where the risk of COVID-19 — both for catching the novel coronavirus or becoming very sick from the disease — is the greatest.

People working specified front-line positions in those communities will also be eligible for immunization.

"It will be more tailored than the health region as a whole, with the possible exception of the North because of the smaller population," Reimer said Friday.

A team of experts is looking at how to target vaccinations based on postal codes, health districts or municipalities, while taking into account racialized communities that are disproportionately impacted by the disease, she said.

Expansion of the eligibility criteria is a work in progress and will be announced with fuller details next week, she noted.

"I don’t have the final plan for how we’ll define geographic areas, other than to say that we’ll have to have something narrow enough that it matches our supply coming from the federal government," Reimer said.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba's Vaccine Implementation Task Force, said while they know front-line police officers and firefighters will now be included in the vaccine rollout, they will need a few more days to figure out who else will get it and where. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)</p></p>

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba's Vaccine Implementation Task Force, said while they know front-line police officers and firefighters will now be included in the vaccine rollout, they will need a few more days to figure out who else will get it and where. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

"I can guarantee that there will be some measurement of the number of cases or severity of cases in different geographic areas," she said, adding rates of disease transmission will be a driving factor.

In addition, the province has decided police and firefighters in Manitoba will be eligible for the vaccine. Additional details about their eligibility criteria will be released early next week.

Reimer said the province has yet to define who it considers to be a public-facing, front-line worker, with respect to this accelerated immunization push. Teachers are also up for consideration.

"This is just the beginning of the third wave of COVID, and the variants are becoming more prevalent; we know they are more contagious and more severe even for younger people," Reimer said during a media briefing.

Previously, the province had prioritized COVID-19 immunization by age, beginning with the oldest, and health-care workers, congregate living staff, and those in social services, including those who do not provide direct care to people.

Meanwhile, the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team is in the middle of a campaign to immunize all adults living on reserves and in adjacent communities, while the province has delivered doses to all adults in select northern communities.

The shift in vaccination eligibility to prioritize people based on postal code or place of employment comes in response to growing COVID-19 case counts, and in an attempt to slow the spread and rate of hospitalization of a third wave.

While it is expected expanded eligibility will be announced and appointments will be opened for the selected groups April 21, many immunizations likely won’t occur until the last week of April or the first week of May.

The majority of the Pfizer-BioNTech doses that have thus far arrived in Manitoba, and next week’s shipment of 37,440 doses, are all already attached to a scheduled appointment.

"New cohorts as they become eligible will be able to book at super sites, which outside of the North all use Pfizer, and all have a steady supply coming in each week," said Johanu Botha, operations, planning and logistics lead for the Manitoba task force.

"Yes, each dose is spoken for, but appointments open up every day as doses are being administered."

When it comes to Moderna supply, of the 28,400 doses the province received Thursday, 9,000 have gone to the First Nations campaign. The rest — more than 19,000 — will be used for pop-up clinics in 26 communities next week, and to vaccinate people in congregate living centres, and those experiencing homelessness or incarcerated in provincial jails.

The 42,000 Moderna doses the province was to receive next week have been delayed to the week of April 26.

Reimer said eligibility criteria for the AstraZeneca vaccine (currently age 55 to 64 with select health conditions and people 65-plus) will not be changed until the National Advisory Committee on Immunization updates its recommendations for the product, which are expected soon.

However, Reimer said people who meet the yet-to-be announced eligibility criteria based on their place of residence or line of work will be able to be immunized wherever vaccines are available.

The doctor cautioned changes to the vaccine eligibility criteria will be limited in the short term but could be expanded as vaccine supply allows.

 

— with files from Kevin Rollason

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
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Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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