Starting in the new year, vaccines will be rolled out in personal care homes and to more health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, Manitoba public health officials announced Wednesday.
Health-care professionals who work in jails, homeless shelters and COVID-19 labs will soon be able to get in line for immunization.
The province is expanding eligibility criteria for its COVID-19 immunization program and is setting up vaccination clinics in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson as thousands more doses of the Pfizer vaccine become available.
In January, roughly 40,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be administered, starting with critical-care staff and older health-care workers who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients. That number, about 10,000 doses a week, could include either the first or second dose for health-care workers considered top priority. The vaccine will be rolled out to more health-care workers, personal care home residents, elderly Manitobans and residents of First Nations, officials said Wednesday.
"We are encouraged to see more front–line MGEU workers added to the next group of those to get the COVID 19 vaccine." – President Michelle Gawronsky
More than 15,000 personal care home residents will be eligible to receive the vaccine starting in January. So, too, will health-care workers who work in jails, homeless shelters, and COVID-19 labs; and those who come into contact with paramedics and specialty medical transport teams, home care workers, child-welfare and disability group homes.
Vaccination plans for other workers, including paramedics, shelter staff and correctional officers, haven't yet been announced.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union released a statement following the announcement.
"We are encouraged to see more front-line MGEU workers added to the next group of those to get the COVID 19 vaccine. We understand that supply is short and demand is high, and we’re looking forward to even more of our members working on the front-lines being added to the list in future," president Michelle Gawronsky said.
Plans are underway to set up three large immunization "super sites" in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson, the latter of which is expected to serve people from all over northern Manitoba. Vaccines are expected to be rolled out in other areas once the province gets more information about how the vaccine can be transported.
"It is important for the province and for Manitobans to know how we will be prioritizing who gets the vaccine as it becomes available." – Dr. Joss Reimer
For the first time Wednesday, the province revealed the health experts and First Nations appointees who are working on its vaccine planning.
Dr. Marcia Anderson, Dr. Barry Lavallee, Cindy Garson and Melanie MacKinnon were appointed by grand chiefs to a trilateral table, along with senior officials from Indigenous Services Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces.
Provincial officials have been asked repeatedly in recent weeks how Indigenous peoples would be represented in Manitoba's vaccine planning. There is currently no Métis representation on the committee; a provincial spokesperson said the planning team will be reviewed, during subsequent phases of vaccine deployment.
Vaccines are expected to be rolled out in First Nations communities at the same time they're distributed in personal care homes, officials said Wednesday.
Federal approval of the Moderna vaccine, announced Wednesday, "is an exciting step," and Manitoba's vaccine rollout team is figuring out how many doses of that vaccine will be sent to this province and who should get first priority, said Dr. Joss Reimer, Manitoba's medical health officer and one of the leaders of the provincial vaccine rollout.
"We know the vaccine is still in relatively short supply here in Manitoba, and across the country, and truly across the world. Supplies are expected, for the next few months, to remain limited," Reimer said Wednesday. "But it is important for the province and for Manitobans to know how we will be prioritizing who gets the vaccine as it becomes available."
The province hasn't promised that all personal care home residents will be able to get vaccinated by the end of January. Manitoba hasn't yet received a vaccine that can be shipped to personal care homes, since the Pfizer vaccine must be kept at an extremely cold temperature. Once more vaccines are shipped, personal care homes will receive vaccines based on how many residents live there and their level of risk. Residents who live in shared rooms in large care homes will be first in line, the province said.
"Because the vaccine is not going to be coming in large chunks at one time, we do need to have a process where, as they come in week by week, we continue to expand to include more facilities," Reimer said. "So whether or not we're able to achieve the 15,000 all residents (vaccinated) within January has not yet been made clear, but we do plan to look at that in the very near future."
As of Wednesday, 1,687 Manitobans had been vaccinated. Currently, only select health-care workers can receive the vaccine, but the eligibility was expanded as of Wednesday to include people who work at COVID-19 testing sites.
— with files from Dylan Robertson
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.