Manitoba health officials recently expanded access to fourth doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, but many residents don’t know when or how to get a second booster shot.

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Manitoba health officials recently expanded access to fourth doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, but many residents don’t know when or how to get a second booster shot.

Here are some answers to questions Free Press readers have raised.

Where do I find a second booster shot?

The Manitoba government’s COVID-19 & Influenza Vaccine Finder lists pharmacies and clinics that are making doses available, including those providing walk-in doses.

When you find a posting, contact the clinic or pharmacy. The information is generally up to date, but some of the listings refer to one-time clinics that wrapped up operations weeks ago, or those happening in future months.

Some pharmacies schedule doses only weeks in advance in hopes of avoiding waste, as vials contain multiple shots that must be used within a few hours of being opened.

There is also one supersite remaining in the province.

"The vaccine clinic at RBC Convention Centre continues to operate, with dates and hours of operation that are scaled to demand to the greatest extent possible," a spokesman wrote.

Who is eligible for a fourth shot?

Four months after getting their third shot, anyone age 50 and older can get a second booster, as can Indigenous people age 30 and older.

In addition, residents of personal-care homes and elderly people living in congregate settings (such as supportive housing and assisted living) qualify, as do adults who are moderately to severely immunocompromised.

I had COVID recently. When do I get my fourth dose?

The advice from Manitoba’s public-health team still stands: you should wait three months from a COVID-19 infection before getting any booster shot in order to maximize the benefit.

"At minimum, people need to wait until their symptoms are gone and the recommended isolation period is over before getting their next dose," a spokesman wrote.

Who needs a prescription for a vaccine dose?

Only people who are immunocompromised and seeking a shot outside the normal time frame need a prescription. This means people who have three doses as their primary series, who are seeking a fourth or fifth shot.

"That requires an individual assessment with their physician or pharmacist to determine the risks and benefits of a three-dose primary series, as well as to determine the best timing of vaccine related to disease or treatment or to determine if further consultation is required (for example with a specialist)," a spokesman wrote.

Other provinces provide shots to much younger people, so when does Manitoba plan to expand eligibility?

We don’t know. The province has generally tried to stick with guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which so far has said that older people get the most benefit from booster shots.

Quebec is allowing any adult who wants a fourth shot to get one three months after their last dose, while Ontario has opted for a five-month window since the last shot, for people 60 and older.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has said that there is no increase in side effects for those who get the vaccine ahead of the clinically recommended time.

Last week, Tam said it’s tricky for public-health officials anywhere to gauge when to administer shots that make up for waning immunity. Canadian officials are betting on a summer decline in coronavirus cases ahead of a fall resurgence — unless a new, more contagious variant emerges.

"We can never guess when that next variant might come up. So these are some of the difficult decisions, as we go about our vaccination strategy," she said.

I had only Pfizer shots; can I get the Moderna vaccine for my fourth shot?

Yes. The provincial guidance has been that mRNA vaccines are safe and interchangeable, with a slight preference to having the same manufacturer for each of the first two shots, also called the primary series.

There is no preference for the third or fourth dose — except for people between the ages of 12 and 29. For that age group, Pfizer is recommended for all shots, due to a lower chance than Moderna of very rare side-effects involving the heart, known as myocarditis and pericarditis.

Vaccines using mRNA technology have been in development for decades, but are relatively new in wide-scale vaccine rollouts. These shots include genetic code in the vaccine that prompts the body to produce a piece of protein that looks like one part of the COVID-19 virus.

That protein trains the immune system to respond at the early onset of exposure to an actual virus particle, instead of the body only catching on after the coronavirus has begun to wreak havoc.

I want a non-mRNA vaccine; where can I find Novavax?

The Novavax shot uses classic vaccination technology, including a piece of protein that is also found on the edge of the novel coronavirus.

Some vaccine-hesitant people say they’d be willing to get a Novavax shot, out of a belief it is significantly less risky, though a vast swath of virologists argue that isn’t the case.

Manitoba’s vaccine website shows doses are available primarily at pharmacies in Winnipeg and the Southern Health region, and dozens of one-day pop-up clinics in the Interlake and Westman.

Are health-care workers eligible for fourth doses even if they’re not 50 and older?

No, they follow the general criteria.

What’s our vaccine uptake?

Officially, 10 per cent of Manitobans age 80 and older have their fourth dose, and 3.6 per cent of those age 50 and up. Overall, just 1.3 per cent of the population is immunized with a fourth dose, which is behind other provinces that opened broader criteria, and at earlier dates.

Overall, 83 per cent of eligible Manitobans have their second dose, qualifying them as "fully vaccinated," while 50.5 per cent age 12 and up have received a third shot.

Manitoba has no official target for COVID-19 vaccinations.

What is Manitoba’s current supply of vaccine?

As of Thursday, there were 310,716 doses of COVID-19 vaccines at the provincial vaccine warehouse, including both mRNA and non-mRNA vaccines.

Manitoba estimates its population to be 1,390,249 people.

Who is in charge of Manitoba’s vaccine task force?

It’s a mystery.

Dr. Joss Reimer left to lead the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority a month ago. The province would not name her successor or offer an explanation.

"The vaccine task force and COVID vaccine planning continues to be a co-ordinated effort across many departments in government, including public health. Clinical decisions continue to be made by a clinical advisory group," a spokesman said.

Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"