Manitoba offers COVID-19 vaccines to all adults, death toll hits 1,000

·3 min read

WINNIPEG — Manitoba opened COVID-19 vaccine appointments to all adults Wednesday as the province reached a grim pandemic milestone — 1,000 deaths.

Due to increased vaccine supplies, mainly of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, health officials dropped the minimum age for vaccinations to 18 from 24. They had reduced it from 30 to 24 a day earlier.

"Our saving grace, if you will, has been this incredibly robust Pfizer supply into the future," said Johanu Botha, co-lead of the province's vaccination effort. An upcoming shipment of Moderna has also allowed the effort to speed up, he added.

The extra supplies, and a growing number of sites where people can get vaccinated, means all Manitobans will be able to get their second dose by the end of July, Botha said.

The province also announced a change in its plan for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Due to both uncertain supply and concerns about rare blood clots, AstraZeneca will no longer be used for first doses, except in a small number of cases in which people might have trouble getting access to other vaccines. Supplies will be reserved as second doses for people who received AstraZeneca initially.

The blood-clotting syndrome that appears to be linked to the vaccine is extremely rare, about one in 60,000 recent data shows, but it can be fatal

"We remain confident that AstraZeneca is a safe and effective vaccine," said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the vaccine team.

"It has protected many tens of thousands of Manitobans who would not otherwise have had that protection."

Reimer added the benefits of AstraZeneca far outweigh the risks.

"But now that we have this great supply coming in of Pfizer and Moderna, we want to look to the supply issues of AstraZeneca and make sure that we are saving as much as possible, given the uncertainties we have around the export of the vaccine coming out of India."

The COVID-19 virus, boosted by highly infectious variants, has been rampaging through India. Hundreds of thousands of new cases are added everyday and India is no longer shipping out any of the AstraZeneca vaccine it produces.

Manitoba health officials reported 364 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and three deaths. That brought the total number of deaths from the virus to 1,000. The province has had the second-highest COVID-19 per-capita death rate among provinces, behind Quebec, says data tracked by the federal government.

The Opposition New Democrats called on the Progressive Conservative government to increase health-care spending and to fill nurse vacancies, including 15 empty positions the NDP says exist at one intensive care unit in Winnipeg.

"Will the premier finally commit to hiring more nurses to make up for the damage that he's caused to date?" NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked in the legislature.

"The fact is we inherited a system that had been neglected for many many years (under the former NDP government)," Premier Brian Pallister said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2021.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press