Changes could be coming to Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccine eligibility system.

The need for speed is more than a movie tagline - it is a move Manitoba's COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force is facing. In the past, the team has focussed on targeting high-risk individuals, such as those living in care homes or healthcare workers. Now, as Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's Chief Public Health Officer tells the public, the shift towards variants of concern becoming the majority of COVID-19 cases is quickly creeping up.

"The team is trying to reach Manitobans as quickly as we possibly can," Dr. Joss Reimer says. "We need to be looking, right now, at the data to analyze where those highest risk areas are and targeting our vaccine rollout to reach the highest risk areas as quickly as possible."

reimerReimer says their team is looking at changing eligibility criteria, as opposed to being age-based which now is sitting at 59-years-old or younger, or First Nations people 39-years-old or older. (Screenshot: Government of Manitoba/YouTube)

They are being asked to move from age-based criteria and towards populations more at risk, such as essential workers or in transmission hot spots.

"Our team of experts is trying to fine-tune amongst workers, amongst people and where they live, who is at highest risk because numbers are shifting. We are just starting in our third wave, so we do not have a lot of information that is specific to Manitoba yet, but the team of epidemiologists, and physicians, and nurses are working very hard to use the information that we do have to fine-tune the plan fo how we can best reach the folks that really are at the highest risk."

This means those who both live further from supersites and are at lower risk could be waiting longer than expected.

Reimer says more details are coming very soon.

"It is truly because we are trying to lessen the public health restrictions that they will have to experience while they are waiting for their turn to get the vaccine."

Roussin directly links vaccines and the Public Health orders, often noting the more vaccinated people are present, the fewer restrictions will be needed.

Manitoba is entering a third wave with 560 cases total of various concerning variants. Of the current 1,439 active cases, 225 of those are variants of concern. Roussin describes these variants of concern as being "more sticky," meaning its transmission rates are much higher than the original strain.

Canada is sharing a ranking how many people per capita have been vaccinated. Across the provinces, Manitoba comes in fourth. Johanu Botha, co-lead of the COVID-19 Immunization Task Force heading up the logistics, says this is because of their move to prioritize at-risk Manitobans. 

"When we say we are very confident in our system, it means it reflects our ability to achieve the medical outcomes, which is 'get doses in arms, fast' but also serve remote and vulnerable Manitobans," Botha said in an earlier briefing.

bothaBotha is looking to increase supersites and decrease pop-up vaccination clinics. (Screenshot: Government of Manitoba/YouTube)

Now looking at speeding up vaccines, the province is limiting the number of popups and creating more supersites. Botha says this will speed up vaccinations.

Botha says pop-ups can "take lower to deploy, they can take fewer vaccine with them." Instead, he is going to "funnel that into a larger urban style popup."

Winnipeg is set to get a large pop-up, and across the province, there will be fewer smaller popups.

To date, 231,103 first doses have been administered, but some AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccines sit idle. Many of the 84,100 doses allocated for pharmacies and medical clinics are unused.

Reimer says there is concern over the vaccine's ability to create blood clots but the risk is much lower than the risk of the COVID-19 virus and potential dire outcomes. She is encouraging everyone who is eligible for a vaccine to get theirs.

Reimer says this could be in part due to how people respond to the vaccine. The doctor says it takes two weeks for the vaccine to start working, and some people may not respond to the first dose, while others not at all.

"The tricky part is you do not know if you are the person that it worked on or not," Reimer says, stating that the second dose works as an extra layer of protection for most. "And then there is a third group that even after dose two will not have a good immune response and never will be immune to COVID."

The third group of those not immune would be very small.