All Manitobans who want a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to book an appointment for one by May 21, including teens and children as young as 12, provincial officials say.
On Wednesday, Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in youth between the ages of 12 and 15; previously, it had the green light for people 16 and older.
"Our team is reviewing that information. We want our clinical team to come up with recommendations very shortly, so that we can share with all Manitobans exactly how we plan to do the roll out for those Manitobans," said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the provincial vaccine task force.
"We do intend to include eligibility for younger Manitobans, along with adults, as we move forward," she said, adding local age eligibility criteria will be lowered to 12-plus by May 21.
Also Wednesday, Reimer said all communities prioritized for immunization because of higher rates of COVID-19 spread and severe outcomes have been publicly identified.
Moving forward, eligibility will be based on age and is expected to drop drastically over the coming days. On Wednesday, age eligibility criteria was lowered to 45, from 50.
"This is one of the largest age-based expansions we have announced so far," Reimer said.
Age eligibility will continue to be dropped on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until May 21. The rate at which the criteria will be lowered is determined, in part, by demand from each age group, but it is expected to be reduced in five-year increments.
About 35,000 people will become eligible each time the province lowers age criteria.
"As we go down the eligibility by age... those individuals will be able to book anywhere between within a week to, we're aiming for a max of three weeks, depending on where they are in the province," said Johanu Botha, the task force's operations and planning lead.
With Health Canada's approval of the vaccine for people age 12-15, about 100,000 young Manitobans will be vaccinated next month, Botha said, extending the timeline to immunize all eligible Manitobans (assuming 70 per cent uptake) to June 11, at the earliest.
The first-dose immunization campaign for adults is expected to wrap by June 8, at the latest, he said. Youth ages 12 to 17 will have had their first shot by June 15, at the latest, assuming 70 per cent uptake, Botha said.
Asked whether the province planned to further prioritize immunization for people based on vocation or health conditions, Reimer said there was little room to move anyone up in the line, considering all Manitobans would be eligible in less than three weeks.
"We're excited that all Manitobans in a very short amount of time, will be eligible to book their first dose," she said. "We want to make sure that get everybody eligible as quickly as we possibly can."
Reimer said a few communities in Manitoba have seen high uptake of vaccine, at more than 60 per cent, including: Island Lake, Norway House, Cross Lake, Bay Line, Churchill and Gimli.
"We need to celebrate these successes," Reimer said. "I want to say a big thank you to the teams, as well as to the people who live in those communities for protecting your communities against COVID."
She said uptake among older age groups has also been encouraging, and expects similar trends among younger Manitobans.
As of Wednesday, Manitoba had given out 510,022 vaccine doses; 40 per cent of adults had received at least one shot.
To date, Manitoba had received 650,640 doses of vaccine, including 66,850 Pfizer doses that arrived Tuesday.
The province continues to wait for approximately 11,000 doses of the single-injection Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is undergoing a safety and quality review by Health Canada. It is expected to arrive as early as next week, if approved.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.