Nearly 240,000 Manitobans have been partially immunized against COVID-19, but there's uncertainty about the timing of their booster shots as the provincial government races to vaccinate 70 per cent of adults with one shot over the next six weeks.
Officials with the COVID-19 vaccine task force have told Manitobans to expect a four-month wait between doses, regardless of the brand of vaccine. The administration of second doses was paused in early March following the guidance of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
However, officials in charge of the vaccine rollout have suggested the time period between doses could be less than four months as vaccine deliveries begin to ramp up across Canada.
"The supply-chain pressures that we’re feeling at the moment is a short- to medium-term pressure," said Johanu Botha, logistics lead for the task force. "All the signals from the federal government have been very clear that every one of these vaccines will see a stable and robust supply chain going forward.
"So if individuals are considering to receive a vaccine, or if they’ve had a vaccine, there will be enough supply over time for everyone to get their second dose," Botha said Wednesday. "That is not a concern. The concern right now is simply about getting doses in arms quickly for those who haven’t gotten a vaccine yet."
The Manitoba government has yet to explain how it will roll out the second dose to people who have received one shot, but officials have said second doses could be offered once demand for first doses wanes or when supply is no longer an issue.
Questions sent to the provincial government about provincial planning related to second doses were not answered Thursday.
"The concern right now is simply about getting doses in arms quickly for those who haven’t gotten a vaccine yet.” — Johanu Botha
"We are focused on protecting as many people as possible with their first dose," a provincial government spokesman said. "We will share more information with people about when and how to get their second dose in the weeks ahead."
However, second doses continue to be administered in congregate-living settings, the province confirmed. People living in First Nations communities who have received a Moderna vaccine are also being offered the second dose at the 28-day mark.
In the past week, an average of 207 second doses have been administered to people each day.
Some physicians and pharmacists, which administer AstraZeneca shots, are booking second-dose appointments, often 12 to 16 weeks into the future.
Ashley Ewasiuk, a pharmacist at Northway Pharmacy River Heights and vice-president of Pharmacists Manitoba, said the province has recommended pharmacists hold off on booking second-dose appointments.
"People are curious when the second dose will be administered and what the process will be," Ewasiuk said. "At this point, we will be contacting them to schedule the second dose and they can expect that around the 16-week mark or potentially earlier."
Ewasiuk said that once there is greater supply, she expects the province will give pharmacists the green light to begin administering second doses. For AstraZeneca, Health Canada says a second dose can be given as soon as four weeks after the first, but the vaccine has been shown to be more effective with a 12-week dosing interval.
"The question becomes if we have ample vaccine supply that allows us to start to administer sooner than that 16-week mark," Ewasiuk said. "That would have to come from (the province), but the government has assured us that the vaccine availability will align with timing for second doses."
“People are curious when the second dose will be administered and what the process will be. At this point, we will be contacting them to schedule the second dose and they can expect that around the 16-week mark or potentially earlier.” — Ashley Ewasiuk, vice-president of Pharmacists Manitoba
Manitoba COVID-19 vaccine task force medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer reassured people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine that they will receive their second shot despite supply-chain disruptions.
The federal government has not provided a delivery schedule for the AstraZeneca shot for May, but anticipates about one million doses of the product to come from India by the end of June, with more doses coming from the manufacturer and COVAX that month.
"We have just started to administer AstraZeneca and we don’t have anybody who’s close to the 12-week mark at this point. So, we’ve got time to see what happens with these supply chains and to hopefully, confirm what we are already being told by the federal government that we will have a lot of dose available when it comes to dose two," Reimer said on Wednesday.
In the chance AstraZeneca supply is not available when people are due for their second shot, she said they may be offered a Moderna, Pfizer, or the Johnson & Johnson dose, or to further delay the second dose.
"None of those decisions has been made at this point because there are just so many unknowns about what will be available and when," Reimer said.
For people who have received the Pfizer vaccine, hundreds of thousands of doses are set to arrive in the province before Canada Day.
Over the next 10 weeks, 771,030 more Pfizer doses will be delivered to Manitoba. Next week, 22,100 Moderna doses will arrive.
It's expected that at least 1,317,80 doses will have been delivered to Manitoba by the week of June 28. As of Thursday, 524,250 of those doses had been delivered, 321,750 of which are Pfizer.
Meanwhile, the provincial government estimates there are 1,068,553 Manitobans who are at least 18 years old and projects that with 70 per cent vaccine uptake, about 748,000 people will want to be vaccinated.
As of Thursday, 70,801 Manitobans were fully immunized with two shots, and 237,312 Manitobans have had only one dose.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.