Manitoba health officials working to finalize new COVID-19 vaccine plan
WINNIPEG -- Less than 24 hours after Manitoba health officials announced a change to the vaccine rollout plan, the medical lead of the vaccine task force provided some more details.
Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of the Vaccine Implementation Task Force, said the province has made progress on protecting the most vulnerable, and with variants on the rise, now is the time to change the approach.
"We know the (the variants) are more contagious. We know that they can be more severe, even for younger people. So we do need to continue to adapt, based on what we are seeing," she said.
Reimer noted this change is consistent with advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
The new rollout plan will see all people in high-risk areas over the age of 18 be eligible as well as frontline responders such as police and firefighters.
Reimer was asked on Friday what would be considered a high-risk area in the province and how they are making these decisions.
"We don't have enough doses to do an entire health region," she said, "The team right now has membership from rural, remote and urban health experts. So they are looking at postal codes, health districts, they're looking at municipalities, to ensure the evidence they are drawing on is strong and that the way we can communicate with Manitobans makes the most sense."
She noted that at this point she doesn't have the exact idea of what these areas will look like but added the rollout will still have to match the supply being provided by the federal government.
"I can guarantee that there will be some measurement of the number of cases or the severity of cases in certain geographic areas."
WHAT CONSTITUTES A FRONTLINE RESPONDER?
The doctor was also asked what frontline responders will be included. Information from the province yesterday indicated police and firefighters, but positions like teachers were listed under the high-risk area category.
"Our team of experts is working on that right now to see what the data shows about what job categories make the most sense to include initially. So certainly, we want to focus on jobs where people are in these high-risk areas, are potentially exposed to the virus more than other people."
Reimer said when these people are finally eligible, they will be able to book appointments just like everyone else has been able to.
"At the same time, we are always looking at ensuring that there is an appropriate access to a variety of different mechanisms for people to be immunized and we will continue to that."
Given the travel-heavy nature of policing in Manitoba, Bobby Baker, Prairie’s and North Region Director for the National Police Federation, says having officers immunized can help curb the spread of COVID-19 in Manitoba.
"When we're enforcing public health orders, we're going into hospitals or into jails and having interactions with the public," said Baker, "Mixing those interactions and going from community to community throughout the province, it will greatly reduce the risk of community transmission."
Baker, who is also an RCMP staff sergeant, says, geographically, the RCMP police over ninety per cent of Manitoba.
Over the course of the pandemic, Baker says multiple officers have already contracted the virus and passed it on to family members.
"We've had more than one officer who had family members pass away as a result of family members contracting COVID-19," said Baker.
Nathan Martindale, vice president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, applauds the move by the province to vaccinate at least some teachers but also points out some potential holes in the plan.
"(Two teachers) can live in the same household in one area and work in two different schools," said Martindale. "So if you’re only providing vaccinations to one of those two people, then doesn't that negate the effect?"
The Manitoba Teachers' Society is also calling for all workers in a school setting, including educational assistants, custodians and secretaries, to be included in the expanded vaccination plan.
When it comes to the age-based eligibility, Reimer said it will slow things down a little bit, but once it hits a younger age, it would speed up because many would have already been vaccinated.
Reimer said the change in the rollout doesn't mean it will slow down while the province waits to finalize everything moving forward.
"We are continuing to administer all of the doses that we have available to us to the folks who are already eligible."
On Friday, Manitoba once again updated the age eligibility for booking a vaccine. Currently, individuals 57 and older, and First Nations people 37 and older, can book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Reimer said Manitobans will learn more about the province's plan on April 21.
- With files from CTV's Michael D'Alimonte.