All adults in high-risk communities, police in Manitoba to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination

The Manitoba government is shifting its approach to vaccination rollout to focus on adults living in communities with the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission, as well as people with “front-line, public-facing roles” in those communities.

Vaccine eligibility will soon be extended to Manitobans living in communities considered to have a high risk, based on provincial data, the province announced Thursday evening. All police officers in the province will also soon be eligible for vaccination, the province said.

The expanded eligibility includes all residents 18 or older and people with “front-line, public-facing roles” such as teachers working in the communities considered at risk.

Officials will announce next Wednesday which communities, and which specific professions, will be eligible for priority vaccination, a provincial news release said.

“This is a targeted approach to ensure those most affected by COVID-19, who are often racialized or marginalized people, have access to the vaccine sooner,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead for Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force, said in the news release.

“Our approach will also help protect those who serve these communities on a daily basis, recognizing their increased risk of exposure as well as their importance to the community’s overall safety and wellness.”

Reimer had hinted at changes earlier this week, saying certain areas of the province generally have higher risk of transmission, and the people living there are at higher risk of severe outcomes if they contract the illness. 

The province is in the midst of changing eligibility requirements for COVID-19 vaccines. On Wednesday, Reimer said the province was considering essential workers as part of the change.

The province has used age as its primary eligibility requirement, mainly because older people are more at risk of getting very sick or dying from COVID-19.

Since everyone aged 59 and up is currently eligible for the vaccine, it’s now feasible to vaccinate essential workers, Reimer said Wednesday.

Despite the expansion, COVID-19 vaccine supply is still limited and there may not be enough to immediately immunize everyone in the groups now eligible, Thursday’s news release said.

Police, firefighters to be prioritized

Front-line police officers and firefighters in Manitoba will also soon be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

Justice Minister Cameron Friesen announced the change for police on Thursday evening after a virtual town-hall meeting.

“Pleased to report from tonight’s COVID-19 vaccine town hall that police have been prioritized in our province and will soon be eligible for the vaccine in MB,” Friesen, the former health minister, tweeted after the announcement. “Details will follow soon.”

The province’s news release said firefighters will also be eligible. Paramedics were already eligible for vaccination.

The president of the Winnipeg Police Association, which represents over 1,400 police officers and about 450 civil servants, is happy to hear that police officers will be granted priority for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Further details on when police and firefighters can book their appointments will be provided next week, the province says. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

“Being included in the vaccine rollout list is a huge relief for a lot of members. There has been a lot of stress related to being on the street on a daily basis, because our members don’t have the ability to work from home,” said Maurice Sabourin.

“[Police] quite often will enter into dynamic scenarios where you can’t wash your hands, you can’t don your PPE, where you have to go hands-on with an individual without knowing any sorts of information about the person.”

Many front-line officers have felt apprehension about bringing the coronavirus — the virus that causes COVID-19 — home to their families, and the union has fielded daily calls from members about when police may receive a priority designation, Sabourin said.

He said he expects officers will book their immunization appointments as soon as they’re able.

Details about when police and firefighters can book their appointments will be given some time next week, the province says.

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