The solution to ending the COVID-19 pandemic in Manitoba has never been closer at hand.
Manitoba could return to normal life within a matter of weeks. It has the inventory of vaccines and the capacity to administer them to do it.
What it doesn’t have are enough people willing to get vaccinated.
Manitoba has almost 400,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses on hand (between super sites and third-party providers, such as clinics and pharmacies) with close to 300,000 more Pfizer doses expected over the next two weeks.
Just over one million Manitobans need to be fully immunized (about 85 per cent of those eligible for the vaccine) to return to normal life. That’s the level most experts say has to be reached to achieve herd immunity.
As of Tuesday, 687,333 Manitobans had received two doses. Among those waiting, 115,000 have booked their second-dose appointments between now and early August, according to the province’s vaccine task force.
That still leaves close to 200,000 people who need to be vaccinated to reach the one million target. About half of them don’t have their first dose yet.
Demand for first and second doses has slowed to a trickle. That may be understandable for those getting their initial shot. Just over 76 per cent of eligible Manitobans have at least one dose. Convincing the remaining nine per cent to get vaccinated will be more challenging (about 17,000 have a first dose booked).
The recent slowdown for second doses is more puzzling. Take-up was strong until it hit 55 per cent last week. However, it has slowed considerably since then. It was 57.8 per cent Tuesday and is growing by less than a percentage point a day.
There are a few theories to explain that. Some who got the Pfizer brand for their first shot may be unwilling to accept Moderna as their second, (even though the two mRNA vaccines are virtually interchangeable). A supply disruption delayed Pfizer shipments in early July. As a result, some may be waiting longer than necessary for their second shot. However, many — if not most — of those would be included in the 115,000 with appointments.
It’s a simple, straightforward solution to returning to normal life. The only thing missing is about 200,000 Manitobans who need to join the program.
Some Manitobans may be on summer vacation and plan to get their second dose upon return (it’s tough to understand how there could be such a lack of urgency when we’re still in a pandemic). Others may have legitimate barrier issues the vaccine task force continues to work on.
Either way, considering we are in a race against the more contagious Delta variant, the slowdown could spell trouble. Many countries around the world are experiencing a resurgence of infections as Delta spreads rapidly. Some, such as Israel and the Netherlands, are reinstating public-health measures.
Manitoba has the doses and the capacity to administer more than 20,000 shots a day. It could fully immunize 85 per cent of eligible Manitobans by the middle of August. Two weeks after that, the vast majority of the province would be fully protected. It’s a simple, straightforward solution to returning to normal life. The only thing missing is about 200,000 Manitobans who need to join the program.
On Monday, France (where COVID-19 infections are on the rise again) announced plans to "put restrictions on the unvaccinated rather than on everyone." People in that country who want to enter restaurants, shopping centres, hospitals, amusement parks and cultural venues will soon need to be fully vaccinated, or show a recent negative test. Almost immediately after the announcement, appointments for vaccines soared.
Manitoba should adopt similar provisions.
Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, are scheduled to announce the next phase of the province’s reopening plan Wednesday. It will likely include more incentives for people to get vaccinated, including maintaining restrictions for those who choose not to get immunized. The province has few other options to safely reopen the economy.
Those who don’t want to participate will be left on the sidelines.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.